The Flood Fury of Kashmir

The Jhelum River is continuously being monitored and people living in low lying areas have been warned. Weeks of heavy downpour, sometimes continuous for up to three to four hours have crippled the state.

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The Flood Fury of Kashmir
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Days of incessant rain and weeks of cloudy skies has aroused the dread of the 2014 floods in the hearts of Kashmiris. Even after the rain stopped and flood waters are receding, the people are still gripped by the fear. From reciting the holy Quranic verses to blaming the fallout of the PDP-BJP coalition government, the floods have set off alarm bells across Kashmir.  Travel operators in Jammu region have cancelled trips to Kashmir due to the in the valley. Meanwhile, the annual Amarnath pilgrimage was suspended on Wednesday from Baltal and Pahalgam route in J&K following a landslide that killed four pilgrims on Tuesday night.

The Jhelum River is continuously being monitored and people living in low lying areas have been warned. Weeks of heavy downpour, sometimes continuous for up to three to four hours have crippled the state. There has been flash flooding with localized damage and landslides that have impacted the communities and road connectivity. In the past week, flood waters breached embankments in the low-lying areas in Kashmir, including Srinagar.

The Jhelum River and many other streams have been noted to be flowing above the danger mark. Three days ago, the Governor N.N. Vohra reviewed every aspect of preparedness of the Relief Centres being established all over the city to receive and look after the affected population. He has been keeping in touch with the key functionaries and has directed that Situation Reports should be sent to him thrice a day till the situation eases. Since the collapse of the PDP-BJP coalition government, J&K has been under Governor’s Rule.

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Dredging Is Not The Solution

The Jhelum River is one of the longest rivers in Kashmir. This river has been in the forefront of the 2014 floods that raged havoc throughout the valley. Though J&K has a long history of flooding, the 2014 floods brought about a massive scale of devastation. Over the years the State government’s response to the threat of flooding has largely been dredging of the Jhelum riverbed to increase its capacity. In 2015, the government gave the dredging contract worth Rs46 crore to a Kolkata based private company. But it doesn’t seem to have helped.

Environmental experts say dredging is often not the best long-term or economic solution. Dredging of river channels does not prevent flooding during extreme river flows. The concept of dredging to prevent extreme flooding is equivalent to trying to squeeze the volume of water held by a floodplain within the volume of water held in the river channel. In fact, dredging is likely to cause faster and more dangerous floods downstream when the water hits the nearest urban bridge. A host of new problems is created.

Flood Management System

There should be an effective flood management policy in place. More focus should be given to flood resilience tactics, robust alternatives. People should plant more and more trees as it can act as sponges, soaking up moisture and wooded areas can slow down waters when rivers overflow. It has been noticed that the major construction projects (highway and railway) in J&K has led to a cut of hundreds of trees. Greenery is disappearing and more construction projects are coming up. Halting deforestation and restoring damaged wetlands can significantly reduce the impact of climate change on flooding.

Respective State governments can improve their flood warning systems. They should encourage and facilitate the implementation of total flood warning system services and emergency management programs to reduce the residual risk of flooding to life, health and safety. They should also develop state legislation, policy and standards for flood management, and provide input to the state flood management policy.