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J&K's untold story: Lives lost and homes destroyed by fury of extreme weather events

An assessment of long-term changes in mortalities due to extreme weather events in India", A study of 50 years’ data, 1970–2019

By Jahangir Sofi
New Update
J&K's untold story: Lives lost and homes destroyed by fury of extreme weather events

Past 12 years report 2863 EWEs with 552 deaths, mortalities due to lightning more frequent: Report

Hilal Ahmad, 24, and Rozy Jan, 23, promised to live together for life, but fate had something else in store for the young couple married just eight months ago.  On May 6, 2023, both lost their lives following a sudden lightning strike in the Sembpora area of Pampore in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district when they were out working in a nearby field closer to their house.  The couple was anticipating their first child.

A local resident of the area said that he had alerted the couple to take shelter from rain and lightning, but before they could do anything, a lightning strike snatched their life.

“I was there at the moment when lightning struck them. They were working in the field. I alerted them and asked them to take shelter from rain and lightning, but before they could do anything, they fell following a strong lightning strike”, said a local resident.

J&K's untold story: Lives lost and homes destroyed by fury of extreme weather events
Heartbreaking tragedy strikes Kashmir as young couple, Hilal Ahmad and Rozy Jan, lose their lives in a sudden lightning strike while working in a nearby field. Photo Credit: Taha Wani/Ground Report

While the entire village is in grief and mourning the death of the newlywed couple, people in the area are terrified, saying they would be scared now to move out upon witnessing any cloud cover.

Blaming the authorities for the poor quality of the roads, the locals of the area said that while they took both bodies to the hospital, and covered a distance of just a few kilometres, it took hours for them to reach the hospital.

“Soon after the lightning strike, we took them to the hospital, but due to the poor road connectivity, it took us hours to reach the nearby government health facility. Had the roads been good, there could have been chances that Rozy Jaan could have survived”, said locals of the area. 

Unstoppable EWEs, Lightening Frequent

Similarly, on the same fateful day, around 60 KMs away from Sembpora’s Pulwama district, in central Kashmir’s Budgam district in the MujePathri area, a lightning strike claimed two more lives in a nearby forest when the relative duos had taken their sheep flock for grazing.

Although locals from the area told Ground Report that the incident is not the first of it’s kind in their area as they have witnessed 2-3 deaths in a similar way some 4-5 years ago, said if there had been any early weather warning they could have avoided venturing out in vulnerable zones.

“Both the families have a good number of sheep flocks, and on a fateful day, their shepherd did not come to take sheep for grazing. Both Sultan and Taja decided to take their sheep for grazing in a nearby forest, but both died due to the lightning strike”, said a local.

The locals said they are terrified by the fresh incident of deaths happening in their area due to the lightning strike, they said a lack of prior weather information like an announcement of weather alert or prior advisories could have helped in preventing the loss of lives.

J&K's untold story: Lives lost and homes destroyed by fury of extreme weather events
Deadly lightning strikes hit Budgam and Pampore in south Kashmir, leaving several people dead and causing fear and panic among locals. Photo Credit: Taha Wani/Ground Report

“The incident aroused out of weather vagaries, which claimed the two lives, and that both the families are poor who just had minimal sources of income, and with the death of their family heads, how they can survive their livelihood”, said Fayaz Ahmad a local resident of the area.

Notably, the Twitter handle of Information & PR, Budgam in a tweet said they had given immediate relief in the form of cheques to the Noks of the deceased who lost their lives in the lightning strike in Gurwaith klan in Sub-Division Khanshaib in district Budgam by concerned district administration. 

The claim for the compensation was also confirmed by the locals of the area. 

“Immediate Relief cheques were given by District Admin Budgam to the Noks of the deceased who lost their lives in the lightning strike in Gurwaith klan in Sub-Division Khanshaib. District admin assured them of all possible help in this time of grief”, the Twitter handle of Information & PR, Budgam wrote.

Increasing Extreme Weather Events

According to research in the year 2021, not just floods and tropical cyclones have been two major disasters causing mortality, heat waves and lightning are also gaining importance.

As per the research study, "An assessment of long-term changes in mortalities due to extreme weather events in India", A study of 50 years’ data, 1970–2019’, In the Indian subcontinent, the annual average of extreme weather events (EWEs) is reported to have increased during the last few decades. 

J&K's untold story: Lives lost and homes destroyed by fury of extreme weather events
Eyewitness recounts the tragic moment of lightning strike that claimed the lives of two young individuals in a field in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Photo Credit: Taha Wani/Ground Report

The study states that over the decades, despite a significant rise in EWEs (except for tropical cyclones), there has been a decrease in the mortality rate (mortalities per year per million population). The number of mortalities per event had a significant negative trend for heatwaves and floods, during the last 50 years.

The total EWEs had a mortality rate of 3.86 during 1980–1999 and it reduced to 2.14 during 2000–2019. The mortality rate of tropical cyclones has reduced by 94% in the past 20 years, whereas for heatwaves and lightning, it increased by 62.2% and 52.8%, respectively.

EWE mortalities in J&K

However, in a separate study carried out by a team of scientists associated with the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), with it’s corresponding author Dr. Mukthar Ahmad a senior scientist and also the Deputy Director at Srinagar’s weather station carried out a research study on Extreme Weather Events induced mortalities in Jammu and Kashmir, India, over the past 12 years, (2010-2022), according to which a total of 2863 EWEs occurred over J&K, of which 552 deaths occurred till the end of 2022. Among the various EWEs, lightning (1942) and heavy rainfall (409) events were more frequent.

As per the study, while comparing the mortality per event, the heavy snow was more destructive compared to any other EWEs. The mortality per event due to heavy snow was highest (4.33) as compared to other extreme events, although the number of events of heavy snow is less (42) as compared to heavy rain (409), flash floods (168), and lightning (1942). 

District-Wise Mortalities in J&K Due to EWEs

The study has revealed that district-wise results of EWEs show that the highest deaths due to heavy snow occurred over Kupwara, Bandipora, Baramulla, and Ganderbal. Flash floods killed most people in Kishtwar, Anantnag, Ganderbal, and Doda.

The study has found that among the mortalities due to the EWEs in J&K, district Kupwara has 56 deaths, followed by 48 deaths in Kishtwar, 45 deaths in Anantnag district, 43 deaths in district Bandipora, 22 deaths in Srinagar and district Samba in Jammu division recording 4 deaths during the year 2010 to 2022.

Major Disasters & Damages

According to the study, the report has shown that in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir as a whole, heavy rain and heavy snow have been two major disasters causing mortality, though flash floods, thunderstorms, and windstorms are gaining importance.

The study has found that in Jammu and Kashmir, flash floods, cloudbursts, and unusually high temperatures have killed livestock, damaged infrastructure, and killed dozens of people, all of which are seen as manifestations of global warming and human-caused climate change. In both 2018 and 2019, the first week of November saw early snowfall. It caused widespread devastation in the horticulture industry. 

J&K's untold story: Lives lost and homes destroyed by fury of extreme weather events
District-wise results of EWEs show the highest deaths due to heavy snow and flash floods in specific areas of Kashmir. Photo Credit: Taha Wani/Ground Report

“This was followed by cold winters in 2019 and 2020. The temperature dropped to -15⁰C in the South Kashmir district of Shopian. The month of March, which is considered the wettest in terms of rainfall, was nearly 10 degrees warmer than previous years, resulting in early snow melt in alpine landscapes. Between May and July 2022, the region experienced its wettest months, which led to 12 flash floods in the environmentally sensitive Kashmir Valley, which resulted in the loss of life as well as damage to crops and other assets. 2022 has thus far been a year of extremes, from protracted dry spells to an abundance of rainfall”, states the study.

According to the study, the increased losses could be the result of either an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events or the greater susceptibility of cities, towns, and the accompanying infrastructure and installations that have expanded rapidly to meet the demands of a growing population.

Disaster Management Programmes and Policy Planning

The study states that in the past, few studies were conducted to examine the trends of EWEs-related mortalities in Jammu and Kashmir, and many of these studies dealt with only one type of extreme weather event. It is thus necessary to study and explore all major types of EWEs over the last 10 to 15 years to develop better disaster management programmes and policy planning. Keeping in mind the increased frequency of EWEs and mortality as a result of these events, these events must be thoroughly investigated.

The study has documented 2863 extreme weather events in Jammu and Kashmir from 2010 to 2022, stating that the events have caused 552 mortalities with 0.19 mortality per event.  

EWEs & Mortalities 

As per the study, the number of events and mortalities caused due to the EWEs in Jammu and Kashmir during the year 2010 to 2022, heavy rains have occurred 409 times, which has caused 111 mortalities, heavy snow has occurred 42 times and claimed 182 mortalities, flash floods have occurred 168 times and claimed 119 mortalities, and the lightening has occurred 1942 times and claimed 42 lives in J&K.

The report also highlights the mortalities due to landslides, heat waves, windstorms, and cold waves in Jammu and Kashmir.

EWEs & Striking Frequencies 

As per the observations made in the study, the results of the frequencies of heavy rainfall revealed the highest frequency for Reasi followed by Jammu and Kathua districts.

Similarly, the highest frequency of thunderstorms and lightning was shown in Jammu, Reasi, Doda, and Ramban districts. The highest frequency of heavy snow was observed over Ramban, Baramulla, and Kupwara. Similarly, the highest frequency of hailstorms was observed over Doda, Ramban, Anantnag, and Srinagar.

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