Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Preserving Kashmir's Wetlands

Two topical reports expressing concerns about deteriorating Wetlands in Kashmir

Wetland Wealth

Akhtar Alam
University of Kashmir

Wetlands are considered as “kidneys” or "biological supermarkets" of the ecosystem and important features of the landscape matrix; support all life forms through extensive food webs and biodiversity. Wetlands are productive and dynamic systems of flora and fauna that sustain varied forms of life and perform useful functions in the maintenance of overall balance of nature. Moreover, they significantly influence the ecological and hydrological functions of a region. Wetlands , whether ponds, marshes, coral reefs, peat lands, lakes or mangroves, all share one fundamental feature: the complex interaction of their basic components - soil, water, animals and plants - fulfil many functions and provide many products that have sustained humans over the centuries. Of course not every wetland performs all these functions - but most wetlands perform many of them. Wetlands are not wastelands but worth looking after, because the monetary value of ecosystem services of one hectare of wetland area is 8,498 US $ per year.

Kashmir Valley, with varied topography and unique climatic regimes, supports and sustains diverse and unique wetland habitats. Wetlands in Kashmir Valley consist of the high-altitude Himalayan lakes, followed by wetlands situated in the flood plain of the major river system, Jehlum. Most of these wetlands are at the verge of extinction mainly due to significant changes in upstream land use change. Wetlands are important and inseparable part of the land use/ land cover of an area. Therefore an insight on the patterns of land use is imperative to evaluate the impacts so produced by it on wetlands. Land use/land cover of a watershed affects many hydrological processes such as runoff, infiltration, erosion, evapo-transpiration etc. Changing land use/land cover within a watershed and in the immediate surroundings of a wetland has a significant impact on their extent, structure, composition and functionality.

Wetland ecosystems integrate many upstream processes and the differential contributions of spatially distributed controlling factors. Freshwater ecosystems are intimately linked to their watersheds or upper catchments. The land transformation by humans over the last few decades has been extensive and has greatly disturbed the natural processes that have shaped aquatic ecosystems. The rates and temporal variation of delivery of water, sediment, and nutrients from land surfaces to stream channels strongly influence a range of ecosystem processes. Water regimes, sediment, and nutrients vary geographically with differences in land use/land cover which generate great spatial heterogeneity in the structure and function of aquatic ecosystems. Hokar Sar wetland is located in the North Eastern part of Doodhganga watershed. The watershed is spread over an area of 61137 hectares and is characterized by all the three major landforms of the Kashmir valley (Mountains, Karewas and Plains). Doodhganga, the main river channel of the watershed after traversing through the upper catchment ultimately enters the Hokar Sar wetland, thus acting as a carrier of alien material to the wetland. An attempt has been made to analyze the impact on the Hokar Sar wetland in response to the changing upstream watershed characteristics using spatial information technology. Land use/land cover assessment of the watershed was carried out for the years 1986, 1995 and 2005, using satellite data of SPOT HRV-I, Landsat-ETM and IRS-LISS-III respectively. Various land use/land cover classes i.e. built up, waste land, agricultural land, cultivable waste, grass land, forests, marshy area, snow covered area, were identified and statistical analysis of these land classes was performed. The multi-temporal land use / land cover statistics of the watershed revealed that significant changes have taken place from 1986 to 2005.

The upstream land use changes have affected the spatial extension, flora and fauna and hydrological characteristics of the Hokar Sar wetland. As a consequence of continuous inflow of sediment load and nutrients from the upper catchment, the wetland has fragmented into various spatial zones with varying physicochemical characteristics. The average water depth of the wetland has reduced. There has been a substantial loss in the areal extent, wetland has attained eutrophication condition and the overall ecosystem of the wetland has been found to be degraded.
Union Directives on Wetland Panel Ignored

Asem Mohiuddin (Rising Kashmir)

Srinagar: The state government has failed to comply with the directives of New Delhi on constituting a state-level committee for the conservation of wetlands in Jammu and Kashmir.

Officials in the Wildlife department said that directives to this effect were issued nearly three years ago but so far no consideration had been given on formation of such a panel.

Charging the government for negligence, the officials said it was imperative to constitute a committee for the conservation of wetlands as these were under constant threat from various quarters.

“Our wetlands have been encroached upon and their depths have also reduced. The land is shrinking at an alarming rate. Government should constitute the committee as per the directives from New Delhi in the interest of the wetlands,” an official said.
While relating the importance of wetlands to the ecological and economic benefits of state, another official said, “Three years ago, the Orissa government set up a similar committee, Chilika Development Authority, which soon catapulted the wetlands of that state on the international map. Not only was the state suceesful in maintaining the ecological balance, the wetlands proved huge economic boon in terms of tourism sector,” he said.

Claiming that the wetlands in JK had similar potential, the official said formation of a committee would help in encashing the benefits in the state.

“Existence of a committee is of prime importance for the preservation of wetlands. It will generate new avenues and opportunities in tourism sector, besides helping to maintain the ecological balance,” the official said.

Mismanagement and lack of coordination within the department is another cause of worry. “As we are working under various heads in the state, there is no significant progress in terms of development of wetlands. A committee, if formed, would be solely responsible for development and preservation of wetlands. Besides, it would be held accountable for any negligence. The committee can make strategies for wetland preservation before forwarding the same to the government,” said an official.

Officials also charged the government of "double-standard" in preservation of water bodies. They alleged that while the government is spending crores to save the Dal Lake, not even 20 percent of this has so far been spent on wetlands.

“The way the government is spending huge amount on the restoration of Dal, a half of this amount would have been enough to save wetlands in the entire state.

These could, in turn, emerge hot tourist destinations with huge economic potential and creating job avenues,” officials said.

Meanwhile, speaking to Rising Kashmir, regional Wildlife Warden, Kashmir range, Nisar Ahmad Kichloo, said he had to study the directives on the committee. “I can only speak after knowing the directions properly,” he said.

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