Weather woes

The intermittent rains in April and May have kept the mercury down and helped in increasing the tourist inflow to Kashmir. However, the rains also brought along the threat of flash floods and have hurt valley’s horticulture. A Kashmir Life report.
For Asgar, who was in Delhi for a month for work and had to travel around in scorching heat, the rains in Kashmir were a huge relief. “I know it could hurt you but I am really enjoying the weather,” Asgar said. It is the same feeling that is making hundreds of tourists fly to Srinagar every day.
Right now, all the hotels and the houseboats are filled to the capacity with tourists, and officials foresee problems emerging with the start of the Amarnath yatra when the arrivals will almost double. Apart from the relative calm in the valley, weather is most important factor for the encouraging tourist arrivals. “The situation is better and visit of some high profile (Bollywood) actors and actresses has added to the confidence level (of tourists),” said a senior tourism official. “Statements by Bollywood actors have helped us and we expect some (film) crews to visit Kashmir for shooting this summer.” At the peak of the scorching heat in Delhi, even Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is slated for a two day visit early next month.
But the inclement weather is expected to impact Kashmir’s fruit basket that is already under stress for the last few years. Unusually this year the valley witnessed massive rise in mercury in March (11 degrees above normal) followed by frequent rains.
“Generally the trend is up,” says a Srinagar weatherman who wants to remain anonymous. “Month of May in 2008 recorded 52.3 mm rain and in 2009 it was 44.6mm but this year it is up.” If total rainfall from March to May 12 is an indication then there have been deficient rains as against the average of 286.2mm there was only 173 mm. “But in the 12 days of May it was 113 percent increase from an average 18.7mm to 39.8mm,” he added.
Sonum Lotus, who heads the Srinagar Meteorological Station said the average rainfall in May is 71mm. “But this is for the first time in last five years that Kashmir recorded an above average rainfall of 80mm in May,” he said.
Rains have surged the water levels in river Jhelum and all its tributaries. Though the situation in south Kashmir is under control, various rivulets in north Kashmir, especially Madhumati stream, have triggered some devastation. Surged water levels washed away roads and as many as six culverts so far. At many places it has breached banks and damaged standing crops and orchards. The level in Jhelum is still below the danger mark at all the three gauges at Sangam, Ram Munhsi Bagh and Asham. The water levels are deemed to be dangerous when it crosses 15.7 ft at Ram Munshi Bagh in Srinagar or 20 ft at Sangam in south Kashmir. Lanes in parts of Srinagar are logged with water. Jammu has already lost three lives in flash floods.
But the real worry in Kashmir is that the inclement weather can upset the applecart both in volumes and quality. “We have already lost 20 percent of the cherry crop and well around 30 percent of the strawberry,” Dr Ghulam Hasan Shah, Director Horticulture Kashmir told Kashmir Life. “So far apple is safe but if it continues the risk of diseases will go up.” Low temperature and rains are two major factors for the scab in apple besides impacting the colour of the crop.
Kashmir’s fruit production has been already declining. Compared to 2007-08, overall fruit dispatches from Kashmir to markets outside J&K have dropped by an unprecedented 23 percent. Over two-third of the entire production of cherry, apple, plum and pear in the valley is sold in as many as 21 markets across India with Delhi alone consuming almost two-third of that.
Cherry, season’s first crop, is the only fruit that had shown some signs of improvement last year. Its ‘exports’ plummeted from 3092.43 Mts in 2007-08 to 1969.51 Mts in 2008-09 but  improved marginally in 2009-10 when 2019.64 Mts were sold in mainland markets. But inclement weather this season has already devoured the possible improvement in its production.
A 40-minute hailstorm destroyed 30 percent of apple crop in south Kashmir. However , apple continues to be the best bet because this crop is the main mover and shaker of Kashmir’s peripheral economy. On an average it pumps around Rs 2000 crore into the countryside economy. “We see a better crop year this year but weather is the main concern,” Shah said. “We are issuing in-time advisories about how the (pesticide) sprays are to be done and growers seem to be responsive.”
Shah said the major discouragement of the inclement weather would be for the strawberry growers. “We started growing strawberry only a few years back and the total production is not more than 150 tons but the bad weather conditions have destroyed 30 percent of it, so far.”

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