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Why rains trigger flood scare in Kashmir?

An urgent need for increasing the carrying capacity of wetlands, Jhelum
12:00 AM May 06, 2024 IST | ARIF SHAFI WANI
why rains trigger flood scare in kashmir
Onlookers keenly watch as Jhelum swells amid rains in Kashmir. [Representational Image]

Few days of incessant rains recently in Kashmir triggered floods scare. Rising water levels in river Jhelum and other water bodies brought back horrible memories of devastating floods in Kashmir in September 2014.


A decade on, no lessons have been learnt both by authorities and people!
As water levels reached the danger mark, authorities woke up and huddled to assess the situation. On April 27, Chief Secretary Atal Dulloo chaired a meeting of the Irrigation and Flood Control (I&FC) Department to review the flood management and mitigation measures being evolved for Kashmir.


The Chief Secretary asked for devising an effective strategy to deal with the flood-like situation in Kashmir. “Floods were disasters which require prior preparedness to alleviate the damage caused by them,” the CS rightly said.


But the question is: shouldn’t the flood mitigation measures have been devised in advance and not in time of emergency? We have to understand how devastating floods can be. There is hardly much time for reaction during floods and mitigation measures must be meticulously planned and importantly executed to save precious lives and minimise damage. Devastation and helplessness due to rain-triggered floods in advanced United Arab Emirates should serve as an eye-opener for us.   


We have to understand the topography and hydrology of Kashmir and its vulnerability to floods. Surrounded by mountains, the waters of Kashmir valley are drained by river Jhelum. The river is called the lifeline of Kashmir as it is the main source of irrigation and also saves the valley from floods.  


Originating from Verinag in south Kashmir, Jhelum is joined by four streams, Surendran, Brang, Arapath and Lidder in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district. Besides, small streams like Veshara and Rambiara also feed the river with fresh lease of waters. Jhelum meanders in a serpentine way from south to north Kashmir and settles in Wullar, Asia’s largest freshwater lake, before draining into Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) through Baramulla.


Spanning 175 sq kms from south to north Kashmir, Jhelum has gradually lost its carrying capacity and floods plains.  The river’s flat topography makes Srinagar the most vulnerable area to flooding in J&K. Wetlands on the left and right of Jhelum acted as reservoirs of the floodwaters. Ecologically important wetlands in the Jhelum floodplains like Hokersar, Bemina wetland, Narakara wetland, Batamaloo numbal, Rakh-e-arth, Anchar lake and Gilsar have been degraded due to rapid encroachment and urbanisation. 


20 wetlands have been lost to urban colonies during the last five decades, particularly in the south of Srinagar. Deterioration of wetlands has affected their capacity to absorb flood water. 
Kashmir valley is one of the most flood hazard-prone regions in the Himalayas. The valley has been witnessing frequent floods for centuries.

It witnessed floods in 1903, 1929, 1948, 1950, 1957, 1959, 1992, 1996, 2002, 2006, 2010 and the last one in 2014 was devastating. Experts say floods are mostly caused by backwater effects to Jhelum due to low outflows from Wullar Lake which has lost its carrying capacity by heavy accumulation of silt and narrow outflow channel.

The problem is compounded by weak and aging embankments of Jhelum. These embankments were made decades ago and were extensively damaged in 2014 floods.  Be it heavy rains, Jhelum will continue to give us floods scares.

More concerning is rapid melting of glaciers creating glacial lakes in various mountain ranges of Kashmir. Glacial lake Outburst Floods can be disastrous and cause catastrophic damages to life and property downstream. 

As per estimates flood water measuring about over 120,000 cusecs had in 2014 floods surpassed the carrying capacity of Jhelum. There is a need to increase the carrying capacity of Jhelum. A blanket ban is must to prevent constructions and extensive filling of its flood plains. 

After the floods of 2014, the Government of India sanctioned the plan for comprehensive flood management of River Jhelum and its tributaries. The project was funded under the Prime Minister’s Development Package.

The flood management plan for river Jhelum was divided into two phases. Rs 399 Cr was sanctioned for the first phase to increase discharge carrying capacity of Jhelum from 31,800 cusecs to 60,000 cusecs.

After substantially completing the first phase, the government of J&K had sought funds for the second phase. A committee set up by the Government of India to go into the cause of catastrophic floods suggested several measures to prevent such calamities in future.

The Government of India has been generous and serious on flood mitigation measures in Jhelum. Funds shouldn’t be a problem for increasing the carrying capacity of Jhelum. We have to understand that flood mitigation works are not like other development works which can be delayed.  There is a need to conduct comprehensive flood mapping in Kashmir.

Contingency plans must be ready in case of emergencies. A two–way communication system must be set up to reach out to people during floods.  We can train people in every village and locality in rescue and relief operations during floods.    

There is a need for joint efforts by the government and people to undertake flood mitigation measures. We have to remember that floods can spell doom and we have to be ready for fighting any eventuality at least to save lives!

Author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir

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