Kashmir’s rural economy is the backbone of Jammu and Kashmir’s GDP with the horticulture sector contributing to a whopping Rs 5000 crore to the erstwhile state’s economy that making up for seven percent of the Gross Domestic Product.
The horticulture sector provides and sustains, directly or indirectly, the livelihood of seven lac families and thirty-three lac people are involved in this trade at its various stages.
The agriculture sector, another key component of the rural economy and its allied sections involve seventy percent population of Jammu and Kashmir, making a large chunk of the Himalayan region self-reliant in terms of food.
This rural economy, however, is strongly dependent on a delicate balance of climate which is drastically changing for the worst.
If we consider the first half of this year as a milestone, Kashmir’s rural economy is facing an imminent collapse as climate change has become glaringly evident and the scale of destruction it is leaving behind is unprecedented.
In the last six months, Kashmir has witnessed most extreme weather and climatic events: a snowless winter, a rainless spring which was scorching hot, an unrelenting heat wave which is breaking and making grim records every next day, and a rare ravishing snowstorm and flashflood in between the heat wave that caused further damage. The tender balance of Kashmir’s climates is now conclusively gone.
Kashmir, for the last several years, is no longer the place of time-perfect climatic events. The rainfall has become more unseasonal, leading to flash floods. Snowless winters are causing depletion of glacial reservoirs that feed the agricultural land during the summer and the early rise in temperature – in late February or first week of March – which is causing the rapid melting of glacial ice which further depletes the irrigation water during summer.
The unseasonal snowfall in first week of November 2019 – which is way too early for such precipitation – 35 percent of orchards across Kashmir faced damages as heavy snow crashed fruit trees under their own weight, leaving behind farmers in distress and economic agony.
This year, the rapidly changing extreme climatic phenomena have already placed an unusually high burden on Kashmir’s rural economy. The lack of snow during winter has resulted in less or no water availability for irrigation, forcing advisories for farmers that they should avoid cultivating rice. Many of those who did cultivate rice faced an immediate burnout of the crop.
The horticulture sector is also facing a climatic distress as dry conditions during the blooming season has meant little nutrient content going up the veins of the trees and, thus, weakening the health of fruit, forcing farmers to pay extra bucks to go for artificial fertilization. The farmers across several parts of southern Kashmir are also reporting falling of fruit due to abrupt drop in temperature in June when snowstorm over the mountains led to a crash in mercury to near freezing conditions.
The litany of economic sorrows brought in by the ongoing climate change is, unfortunately, not going to vanish on its own.
The United Nations describes climate change as “a global emergency that goes beyond national borders.” This definition is absolutely on the mark as regions across the world are facing rapid increase in spring, summer and autumn temperatures while winters are becoming dry.
While Kashmir – with its little industrial development over the centuries during which climate change became an increasing threat to the world and comparatively negligible carbon emissions that is fuelling the catastrophic change – may not be a partner in crime, its fragile ecology and climatic patterns make it a stakeholder for worry and contender to act fast.
The people and administration of Jammu and Kashmir cannot afford to wait for the world to act, which is guided by its own economic compulsions. The entire Kashmir is, figuratively, on fire and people and administrators cannot wait for a 2025 or 2030 or 2050 deadline to douse this fire.
The time to act is now. The problem is that no one – the people and those who run this ecologically fragile region –are waking up to this telling reality.
Jammu and Kashmir needs its own climate change policy that should be drafted and implemented as a matter of emergency – a matter of life and death, as it were.
Scientists and experts in Kashmir are already issuing stern warnings that cannot be taken for granted. A Kashmiri geo-informatics expert put it like this recently: “If the prevailing situation continues through summer, it would mean faster glacial degradation, lower stream flows (since almost all snow is gone), lesser agricultural and hydropower production, and many unknowns.
We are certainly not ready for this climate crisis.
We definitely were not ready for any climate-based crisis in the past, and sadly, neither are we now.
In September 2014, when a high volume of rainfall continued for several days and high-pressure situation in surrounding areas over Tibetan plateau meant all the moisture falling over Kashmir, and turning its rivers and streams into a rampaging force, the people and administration were caught completely off guard. There were no solutions, except for escaping to the higher altitudes.
This time too there seems to be no urgency, this in the face of such egregious signs and warnings. A two-pronged strategy should have been in place – one to cater to remedial measures and another to prepare for the worst-case scenarios.
The climate change catastrophe can not only shatter Kashmir’s economy but it can also end lives. A three-day long rainfall in mid-June again exposed River Jehelum’s limited intake capacity as it got filled to its brim and could have held no more. A few more hours or days of rainfall would certainly have inflicted a heavy damage.
The people and administration should immediately adopt and dedicatedly implement a localized, Kashmir-centric approach. The forestation of stolen swathes of forest land and de-silting of Jehlum should be immediate priorities and a point to begin with. It may not be enough, but at least it will be some start to build on.