January 2018 News

Study Blames Urbanisation, Loss Of Wetlands For 2014 Flood

5 January 2018
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Azhar Qadri

Srinagar: Three-quarters of the Jhelum floodplain, stretching over 834 sq km, was flooded in September 2014 and a host of man-made causes, including 'extensive urbanisation of the floodplain', exacerbated Kashmir's most devastating deluge, a new study has revealed. The study concluded that the extensive urbanisation of the floodplains, loss of a large swathes of wetlands, decrease in the channel capacity due to the siltation of watercourses and deforestation in the mountainous catchment areas added to the problem. 'The inadequate flood control structure and the lack of institutional capacity for managing the enormity of the extreme flood events increased the risk of the people to flooding,' said the two-year study conducted by the University of Kashmir's Department of Earth Sciences. It found that the built-up area within the floodplains increased by four times from 55.47 sq km in 1972 to 203.30 sq km in 2013 and the population within the floodplain increased from 11,29,947 in 1981 to 30,21,335 in 2011. It also observed that 20 wetlands had been converted into urban colonies in and around Srinagar in the past five decades. 'With the urbanised and mismanaged floodplains of Jhelum lending impetus, the 2014 flooding attained disastrous dimensions due to the prolonged steady precipitation observed over the entire Valley during the first week of September,' it said. The initial assessment report prepared by the state government had stated that 83,044 concrete houses were fully damaged and 96,089 were partially damaged by the disaster. The flood had left a trail of destruction and caused an estimated loss of Rs 1 lakh crore, death of 85 persons and left 12.5 lakh families affected. The study - Climatic, geomorphic and anthropogenic drivers of the 2014 extreme flooding in the Jhelum basin of Kashmir - is the first attempt to scientifically quantify the parameters of flood and its causes and has used satellite imagery, meteorological data, field and other data, said Irfan Rashid, one of the four researchers who conducted study. 'The analysis of precipitation data indicated that south Kashmir received the maximum amount of rainfall. Seven-day rainfall recorded at certain places in south Kashmir, such as Qazigund, crossed 617 mm,' the study has found. The average monthly rainfall received in Qazigund during September is 56.4 mm. The south Kashmir region received an average 433 mm of rainfall during the first week of September, the study noted, while the north Kashmir region received low precipitation averaging about 162 mm and Srinagar recorded about 173 mm of rainfall, crossing the 25-year high of 151.9 mm preceding the 1992 floods. The study found that three-quarters, or 78.56 per cent, of Jhelum's floodplain was flooded and its depth was up to 30.9 feet in south Kashmir. It also noted that the Jhelum waters overflew the embankments for major part of its stretch from south Kashmir to Srinagar city during the floods and the gauge reading at Sangam crossed 35.4 feet on September 5 with the floodwaters measuring about 1,15,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). The gauge reading at Srinagar crossed 30 feet on September 7, which was much above the danger mark of 22 feet, and the river was discharging more than 70,000 cfs of floodwaters against the drainage capacity of about 35,000 cfs. The study also revealed that the Jhelum breached its banks at more than 26 places. About 16 breaches were observed in and around the Srinagar city which caused the quick inundation of the city. The study found that man-made barriers were responsible for the higher levels of inundation. 'The presence of the prominent physical barriers in the midst of the floodplain restricted the spread of the floodwaters in certain areas of the floodplain, thereby increasing the inundation levels in Srinagar,' it said. It has also noted that despite clear indications of the impending floods, the authorities 'did not rise to the occasion to develop the adequate flood control infrastructure in the basin.' The study suggested that there was a 'need to audit the impacts' of the major infrastructure development projects, including railways and highways, that had come up in the midst of the floodplains.

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