Kashmir Floods A Man-made Disaster, Need Wetland Conservation Act: BNHS

16 September 2014

New Delhi: Demanding for the Wetland Conservation Act, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) on Tuesday said that the flood in Kashmir is nothing but a man-made disaster. Dal Lake has shrunk to half its size and Wular Lake is just 10%, as compared to what it once was - 20,200 hectares. What could have been done to avoid the damage? Dr Asad Rahmani, director of BNHS said, 'This can be termed as an ecological disaster. The disastrous damage caused to life and property could have been minimized if the large number of wetlands that once existed in the Kashmir valley had been preserved. Wetlands act as a sponge that retains excess water. Wular Lake is a classical example.' What have the ramifications been? As per the field studies done by BNHS over the years, there has been huge loss of wetlands in Kashmir. The Dal Lake in Srinagar, which is a popular tourist destination, has witnessed serious reclamations all along its periphery in the marshy areas. This in turn, reduced the lake size to just about 1,200 hectares - almost half of its earlier spread. What is the level of deterioration at Wular? The vast expanse of Wular Lake and associated marshes - an Important Bird Area (an area recognized as being a globally important habitat for the conservation of bird populations) - has also seen similar destruction. Wular Lake was once spread across 20,200 hectares, it now remains restricted to a mere 2,400 hectares. How have the wetlands in Kashmir been destroyed? Kashmir valley has one narrow opening towards the west for the water from the catchment areas to get drained down the Jhelum River. From all other sides, it is encircled by high mountains. Over the last 30 years, nearly 50% of the wetlands in the Kashmir valley have been encroached upon or severely damaged beyond restoration due to reckless developmental activities with no regard for nature conservation. The construction there is mainly due to commercial activities. What has the BNHS recommended? According to Dr Rahmani, even the British and former maharajas of Kashmir used to consider Wular Lake as a buffer for the floods, where excess water can get absorbed. As per BNHS, the excessive damage done to the marshes of the Kashmir valley is a strong indication to immediately come up with a Wetland (Conservation) Act along similar lines as the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.