Flash floods, cloudbursts and unusually high temperatures in Jammu and Kashmir are blamed for a loss of livestock, damage to infrastructure and dozens of deaths in what are seen as manifestations of global warming and human-caused climate change.
In one incident, 16 people died in a flash flood during an annual Hindu pilgrimage in Indian-administered Kashmir. Sonam Lotus, director of the meteorological department of Jammu and Kashmir, said in an interview, “even though we monitor the weather constantly, sometimes it is beyond our control.”
The region witnessed the heaviest rainfall between May and July, resulting in a dozen flash floods in the environmentally fragile valley, which damaged agricultural crops and other assets. The Kashmir highway, the entrance to the valley from central India, has frequently been closed by landslides and shooting stones brought on by heavy rains.
“We have analyzed that there has been rapid temperature increase in the valley from the past 40 years, 1980 to 2020. The max temperature is showing a higher increase as compared to minimum temperature,” explained Sumira Nazir Zaz, a faculty member at the University of Kashmir Department of Geoinformatics.
Zaz said weather stations have recorded the most significant temperature increases at higher elevations, such as Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Qazigund, while an urban island effect has driven up temperatures at Srinagar, the regional capital. She also noted increased precipitation, especially in winter, even though the valley is far from any ocean.
An 80-year-old resident of Kashmir, Abdul Salam Bhat, told VOA that he has watched temperatures rise over the decades. “Rarely did we use electric ceiling fans during the summer night. However, nowadays ceiling fans won’t cool the room. Air conditioners are becoming a new norm in the valley,” Bhat said.
Across India, floods have become more common in recent years, claiming the lives of about 6,000 people and causing damage estimated at $7.4 billion over the past three years. This amount is approximately equal to one-third of the India’s infrastructure budget for its roads and highways.
In June this year, after four days of nonstop rain, the Jhelum River in Kashmir reached the danger mark in some places, bringing back memories of a devastating 2014 flood that claimed 300 lives and destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of property.
The water level in the major rivers and tributaries surged significantly, flooding several low-lying districts in Srinagar and elsewhere in Kashmir. As a result, many Srinagar residents shifted to the upper floors until the rains ended after four days.
Official records reported by a local media site showed that Jammu and Kashmir experienced nine extreme weather events between May and July, including flash floods and cloudbursts.
The extreme weather has not spared livestock. According to the region’s sheep husbandry department, the valley’s grasslands provide summer shelter for about 2 million sheep. However, herders in the highlands of south Kashmir suffered severe losses this year as a result of the unusual occurrence of snow in June.
The shepherds in these areas confirm that heavy snowfall between June 19 and June 22 blanketed the region’s green meadows with a layer of snow 2 to 3 feet deep. The authorities in the region declared the heavy snowfall as a state-specific natural disaster.
A resident in the village of Zampathri, who takes his livestock to higher elevations for grazing in the summer, told VOA that he used to take his sheep to an area known as Gaadar but in recent years has had to venture farther because of reduced vegetation in the area.
“The pastoralist community belong to poor communities and are most vulnerable to climate-related disasters,” wrote researchers Sajad Ahmad Mir and Maliha Batool in a paper titled “Impact of Climate Change on Gujjar and Bakarwal Communities of Jammu and Kashmir.” They said the convergence of land-use change and climate insecurity “is impairing the resilience of various social and ecological systems.”
Faizan Arif Keng, an independent weather forecaster who has become popular on social media, told VOA he believes authorities need to prepare for additional climate change to come.
“Floods, droughts, lightning strikes, cloudbursts, snowstorms — everything is happening. Extreme events are going to increase furthermore,” he said. “Local and global actions are required to guard our planet and ourselves from any catastrophes. There is an immediate need to take climate change seriously.”
Zaz said that weather patterns originating in the North Atlantic Ocean have weakened since 1980, contributing to the weather anomalies. “Precipitation in the form of snow has decreased and rain has increased. Land use and cover of Kashmir valley has changed rapidly, affecting the runoff and causing rapid urban flows, and as a result we have increased floods.”
The regional government says it is currently revising its plan for climate action, which cites climate change as “a serious threat to the species diversity, habitats, forests, wildlife, fisheries and the water resources in the region.”
A veteran hiker, Shafkat Masoodi, told VOA he has noted the disappearance of glaciers over the decades in several mountain areas surrounding the valley. Just recently, he said, “We were in a place that used to be surrounded by a glacier, however, to our utter surprise we couldn’t find one and had to trek for six hours to get some water.”
Like many other trekkers, he said, he has learned to pay closer attention to the weather forecasts before setting out on a hike. “Earlier we used not to, but now we check the weather forecast before we plan for a trek as extreme weather could be life-threatening deep inside the woods.”