Winds of Change

Unfamiliar weather conditions in Kashmir may be a consequence of climate change. Apart from forcing permanent changes in land use, farmers are immediately the worst hit. Athar Parvaiz reports about what all this could mean in the longer run.

Every morning Farida Akhtar wakes up, she peeps through the window, before casting a look at the clock, to see if there is any probability of a sunny day ahead. The past four days of complete sunshine have brought relief to her, first time in the past two and a half months.

She has no idea why the weather is turning too erratic with each passing year. “Every year it springs a surprise,” she says. “Last year we had an exceptionally hot summer followed by an extremely cold winter; and now a long spell of rains and windstorms,” says 44-year-old Akhtar, a house-wife who lives in Bemina, Srinagar.

For Kashmiris, it is the start of second fortnight of June that marked the actual beginning of summer this year. The charm of spring in April and May was almost absent because of an extended spell of erratic weather which also brought devastating windstorms at regular intervals.

In March this year a destructive windstorm, which lasted for four consecutive days, wrecked havoc across Kashmir. The storm, according to official estimates, killed five people and injured another 35, apart from causing damage to 9214 residential houses, 235 were completely destroyed.

“I have never seen such a windstorm in my life which would last for days together,” says 67-year-old Sonawallah Rather of Pattan.  Before the windstorm of early spring, people in Kashmir had to repeatedly hear about snow avalanches and landslides claiming lives and damaging infrastructure in the hilly areas because of heavy snowing.

More than 150 people got killed in over two dozen incidents of huge snow avalanches and landslides. There are apprehensions that the damage can be worst if such incidents occur in the areas which are covered with landmines, planted during the past two decades of armed conflict in Kashmir valley.

“It is certainly a matter of concern that snow avalanches and landslides occur too frequently now. And it is too frightening as they may even occur in areas covered with landmines,” says Divisional Commissioner, Masood Samoon.  “Most of these areas are covered with landmines. So the damage can be worse when a landmass filled with landmines would slide down in a habitation.”

Samoon has hardly any hopes that the areas covered under landmines, can be sanitised with urgency.  “It is not easy, though we have raised this issue,” he says.

Extreme weather events have surprised the people and they are clueless.     “I have seen weather turning rough, but not the way we are witnessing now,” recalls Rather.  “When it rains, it rains for days and weeks together; and when the weather stays dry, it stretches far too long.”

For him, it is beyond comprehension why the weather should behave this way all of a sudden.  Rather’s concerns are much like those expressed by the people in picturesque Ladakh where a flash flood in August 2010 left a trail of destruction behind. The flood killed 233 people and rendered thousands more homeless.

The floods washed away crops, along with huge chunks of cultivable land. According to official figures, 1420 hectares of land were affected by the floods and 51 percent of crops, which included barley and vegetables, were damaged.

“We have never heard of a disaster of this kind in Ladakh’s history,” said Pintoo Narbo.  Much before the calamity struck, the people of this mountainous region already wondered about the curious changes in weather and temperature that were in sharp contrast to the way they live.

“Our region is known as an arid region and we have small glaciers, which we draw water from. But over the last several years, many of these glaciers have receded. Not only this, we have seen some of our limited pasture lands drying up because of water scarcity,” says Lobzang Tsultim of Leh Nutrition Project.

He stresses that lamenting over the changing conditions is pointless. “What we need to do instead, is to look for solutions,” he says and adds,  “you  have to either adapt or become extinct.”  According to him, people from poorer regions of the world are suffering because of the policies of the industrial world.  But he still finds it useless to indulge in blame games. “Though I am sure that we are paying for none of our faults, we have to think about adapting to the changes, which are taking place due to the actions of the developed world (in producing greenhouse gases).”

Farmers’ Fears
Farmers in most of the rural areas of Kashmir are constantly worried about the weather conditions. The last four-five years, say the farmers, have been exceptionally

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