Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Climate change singes Kashmir

Nusrat Ara in KashmirWatch: … Climate change has affected nearly every country in the world, irrespective of the role it has played in polluting the environment. Lying in the lap of the great Himalayas, Kashmir is one such place, which is now feeling the impact.

While the West was in the grip of a harsh winter with unprecedented snowfall, the hilly regions of Kashmir was still awaiting its share of the season's snow. Now its absence virtually guarantees a drought in the coming summer. "Unfortunately the people who are most impacted by climate change are those who are least responsible for it", says Usmaan Ahmad, the Kashmir mission director Mercy Corps, an international organization working at the community level to overcome crises and engender sustainable positive change.

Kashmir's orchard owners were already nervous as their trees began to sprout buds well before time. An early flower means decreased production and a drought in summer would only worsen this bleak scenario. Just two decades ago, the Kashmir Valley would get heavy snowfall in early winter, a blanket, which would freeze and cover the landscape until spring. Nowadays snowfall is not only thin but also often late, which means it will not stay for long.….Kashmir's prized saffron crop has suffered a 40% drop in production, too. ….

For the past five years, Shakil Romshoo, an assistant professor at the Geology and Geophysics department of the University of Kashmir has been studying the region's glaciers. He says that the average temperature in the region has increased by more than a degree in the last 100 years, hastening the melt. … He says the biggest threat that Climate Change poses in Kashmir is the melting of the glaciers, high up in the Himalayas, whose waters are reaching almost one-fifth of the world's population. "This is a water tower of Asia, the Himalayas. Waters from here go to Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, and beyond. I believe this is going to have serious consequences on all sectors that depend on water, agriculture, and horticulture, even hydropower. It is already having an impact," he says. "You see people switching from agriculture to horticulture. "

Pakistan depends heavily on waters from Kashmir for irrigation. As global warming hastens glacial melting, it changes the flow patterns of the glacier-fed rivers that flow into Pakistan. Apart from the change in volume, the water is reaching the country's fields at the wrong time….

A satellite image of the Hindu Kush, NASA

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