February 2018 News

As Wetlands Shrink In Kashmir, Govt Looks Other Way

1 February 2018
Greater Kashmir
Arif Shafi Wani

Srinagar: Small patches of marshy land with high wild reeds amid concrete constructions are the last remnants of a wetland at Tengpora area here. With wetlands in Kashmir shrinking at a fast pace, state government has failed to take measures for their restoration even as experts warn that it will make valley more vulnerable to floods. As many functions are scheduled to be held to commemorate World Wetlands Day, most of the wetlands Wullar, Haigam, Mirgund, Shalabugh are on the verge of extinction mainly due to encroachments, siltation and pollution. Experts said the important wetlands in the Jhelum floodplains like Hokarsar, Bemina wetland, Narakara wetland, Batamaloo numbal, Rakh-e-arth, Anchar lake and Gilsar have been degraded due to rapid encroachment and urbanization. 'The total area of the major wetlands in the Jhelum basin with area greater than 25 ha has decreased from 288.96 sq km in 1972 to 266.45 sq km at present. It has been observed that in and around Srinagar city only, we have lost 20 wetlands to urban colonies during the last five decades, particularly in the South of the Srinagar. As a result, the impervious concrete surfaces in the south of the city, due to the urban sprawl have increased from 34% in 1992 to more than 65% in 2010 severally affecting the hydrological processes in the basin,' Prof Shakil Romshoo, Head of the Department of Earth Sciences said. World Wetland Day, commemorated on 2nd February in many countries, marks the signing of convention on wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, on this day in 1971 for conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands. Despite being a Ramsar site, no tangible measure has been taken to restore Wullar lake and its associated wetlands which comprise an important habitat for migratory water birds within Central Asian Flyway. 'I vividly remember that till 1990, there was large wetland here which used to bustle with migratory birds in winter, but it has vanished now under houses and roads,' said Altaf Ahmad,55, of Tengpora Bypass pointing towards a residential colony. A study carried out by the Department of Earth Sciences, Kashmir University states that Hokersar, a Ramsar site has shrunk from 18.75 Sq Kms in 1969 to 12.8 Sq Kms at present. Its open water body has shrunk from 1.74 Sq Kms in 1969 to less than one Sq.Km. Haigam Wetland Conservation Reserve, has also shrunk considerably mainly due to paddy cultivation. Muhammad Azim Tuman,82, houseboat owner said most of the areas in Batamaloo, Bemina, Hyderpora and HMT were wetlands. 'I remember as a youth how tourists used to travel in shikaras in these wetlands for bird hunting and fishing. These wetland stretched till several areas of Budgam and used to receive fresh lease of waters from Doodhganga nallah. Due to official apathy and public green, both Doodhganga nallah as well as these wetlands have been buried alive,' Tuman lamented. The flat topography of Jhelum, spanning 175 sq.kms from south to north Kashmir, makes the summer capital vulnerable to flooding. Wetlands and water bodies on the left and right of Jhelum acted as reservoirs of the floodwaters. 'But in the last five decades most of the wetlands have lost their carrying capacity due to conversion into agriculture land or concrete landscape,' Romshoo said. Regional Wildlife Warden Kashmir Rashid Naqash said restoration of wetlands in Kashmir needs multi-disciplinary approach. 'We are contemplating to have one comprehensive management plan based on basin morphology because these wetlands are lying on river Jhelum basin. We want the plan to incorporate all aspects hydrology, livelihood issues, catchment treatment, bathometry,' he said.