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Melting snow and rising temperatures, Kashmir's livelihoods at risk: Study

Kashmir is in alarm as it deals with deteriorating conditions. A concerning decrease in snowfall, along with rise in temperatures

By Tufail Ganie
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J&K: First major weather activity of season, as weatherman forecasts Rains & Snow 

The Kashmir Valley is facing a critical situation due to worsening conditions. With a worrying decrease in snowfall and a significant increase in temperatures, the valley faces a formidable challenge that jeopardizes its social and economic development.

A copy of the report lies with the Ground Report, The International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has expressed concern about the cascading effects of changes in the frozen world, and the transformation of traditional livelihoods looms. As the snow and ice recede, labour migration has become a major source of income in the mountains. Although not directly affected by the change in the frozen environment, this change in occupations is a result of challenges to traditional livelihoods, which have been negatively affected.

Understanding spring dynamics

Research on high mountain springs remains sparse, leaving critical knowledge gaps. A study by Panwar in 2020 reveals crucial information about spring dynamics in the Kashmir Himalayas. The research highlights an intriguing inverse relationship between spring discharge and precipitation, accompanied by a positive correlation with snow and glacier melt.

The months between March and July see an increase in spring discharge as temperatures rise. Subsequent months experienced reduced discharge due to exceeding infiltration capacities and increased runoff. The period from December to February witnesses minimal melting due to low temperatures.

In particular, the spring discharge during the rainiest month, March, with nearly 200 mm of precipitation, is less than that of June, which receives only 80 mm of precipitation. June and July, with high temperatures, facilitate the melting of snow and ice, substantially replenishing groundwater reserves.

A study of karst springs in the Kashmir Valley reveals that snowmelt dominates spring flows (55–96%), followed by glacial melt (5–36%) and rainfall (4–34% ). Similar studies in the mid-mountains of the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) establish a connection between precipitation, spring discharge, and recharge over small, distributed areas.

Agricultural transformations and water conflicts

According to the study, "The impacts of the cryospheric shift are strikingly evident in Jammu and Kashmir, where summer rice varieties and traditional Kashmiri apples have disappeared. Paddy fields have been converted to rainfed drylands in some areas due to rising temperatures and erratic rainfall and snow patterns. These changes have disrupted agricultural practices, threatening the livelihoods of communities that depend on these crops".

Photo Credit: Hotspots of transboundary water conflicts in the HKH from 1971 to 2005

The Indus and Ganges-Brahmaputra basins within the Hindu Kush Himalayas have witnessed water conflicts stemming from cryospheric change. Based on records from the International Water Events Database and the Transboundary Freshwater Disputes Database (TFDD), illustrates the occurrence of water disputes over the period 1971–2005.

As per the study, In particular, conflicts have arisen over the sharing of river water at sites such as the Baglihar Dam, the Wullar Dam and the Kishan Ganga Dam in the Indus Basin, located in Jammu and Kashmir. These disputes highlight the increasing pressure on water resources and the urgent need for effective management strategies in light of cryospheric change.

According to the study, as the spectre of disaster-related risks looms, some local communities in the Kashmir Valley have made the difficult decision to voluntarily abandon their agricultural land and settlements. The village of Kumik in Jammu and Kashmir serves as an example of this effort, in which communities have been helped to relocate to mitigate the risks associated with cryospheric change.

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