Depleting Glaciers Pose Threat To Jhelum

19 December 2015
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Azhar Qadri

Srinagar: The Jhelum, which runs through the Kashmir valley from south to north, is facing a steady degradation with its water discharge decreasing amid rapid socio-economic transformation in the region. The river, which traverses a length of 150 miles from its source in south Kashmir passing through Srinagar to Baramulla in north Kashmir before heading to Pakistan, is the main channel of drainage out of the Valley and has shaped the lifestyle of region's inhabitants for centuries. The Jhelum is linked to birth and growth of civilisation in Kashmir as all major towns of the region, including Srinagar, had settled around the river banks. The river forms the bedrock of Kashmir's ecology and has been an important source of life-support. The Jhelum, however, is also the source of major floods in the region, like the one in September last year. An official report prepared by the state government's Environment and Remote Sensing Department in the aftermath of last year's flood noted that constructions along the banks of the Jhelum and elsewhere had 'strangulated the natural drainage network'. The removal of encroachments along the river banks has been marred by half-hearted efforts of the successive state governments. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court last month had issued a show cause notice to the Chief Engineers of the Flood and Irrigation Department, asking them why they should not submit Rs 5 crore each for 'absolute dereliction of their duty' in protecting the river from illegal encroachments. The emerging threat to the Jhelum, however, is from the decreasing water discharge into the river due to depleting glaciers. A recent study by a team of researchers from University of Kashmir found that the water discharge into the river had shown a decreasing trend from 1995 to 2011. The study, which surveyed the implications of shrinking cryosphere under the changing climate on the stream flows in the Lidder catchment, attributed the decreasing water discharge to 'the loss of the substantial glacier mass due to the climate change witnessed in the area in the past five to six decades'. The Lidder is an important and one of the 24 tributaries which form the Jhelum. The catchment area of the tributaries, which merge into the Jhelum, envelope the entire breadth of the Valley, from Bringi and Sadran in the extreme south to Pohru and Madhumati streams in the north. Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, who headed the study, said the river's discharge had decreased as 'glaciers have depleted'. The study notes that the glacier area has depleted by 27.47% in last 51 years. In another study on the changing environment of the Jhelum basin, Romshoo has concluded that the river was 'facing the brunt of rapid socio-economic transformation and environmental degradation under changing climate'. 'The observed changes in the land system, climate, demography, wetlands, cryosphere and stream-flows are adversely affecting the riparian functionality of the Jhelum.'