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.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

From Wazwans to Masjids, Kashmir's Forests are Being Depleted

Without proper reseeding and forest management, Kashmir has little chance of restoring its natural woods

City masjids consume 40,000 quintals of fire wood

Rising Kashmir News

Srinagar: To keep worshippers warm, hamam’s at the city masjids consume more than 40,000 quintals of fire wood every winter, a practice forest officials say has to be changed in future keeping in view exhaustion of required wood and forest depletion.
“Some has to be used as an alternative. The practice of using conifers as fuel must end,” Range officer at the Timber Transport Range (TTR) Parimpora, Mohammad Latief Bhat said.

The Urban Forestry Department (UFD) is keeping up with its tradition of supplying firewood to the masjids and other religious institutions at subsidised rates and this year too it has supplied 2500 quintals of the firewood to 707 masjids.
And despite total number of masjids registered with the department being 1142, officials say the number is increasing every year putting more pressure on the department for fuel supplies.

Bhat said, “Number of masjids is going up every year and with extraction of firewood from forests proving to be a costly affair the religious places will have to procure additional firewood from the open market.”

The forest department during the lumbering process sorts out the rotten and decaying conifers that are dumped later at the TTR Parimpora. From there it is passed on to the city masjids, cemeteries, shamshaans and churches.

This year price for a quintal of firewood is 130 rupees with the private transporters charging 30 rupees a quintal for transportation.

Officials of the forest department suggest the wood could be used in the wood-based industry as an alternative keeping in view the depletion of forests.

“With the help of advancement in timber technology,” the range officer said, “the rotten and discarded wood can be utilised in wood-based industry where it can be turned into more useful products instead of burning in hamam’s.”

The official also said, “Burning of conifers firewood—a major component of what is supplied to the masjids also adds to pollution given the high amount of oil it harbours which on burning produces a high particulate matter in the shape of soot.”
To sustain with the firewood requirements, Bhat said that there should be intense plantations of fire wood tree species.

“It is the only way we can actually cope up with the issue,” he added.


Aid group tries to reduce carbon footprint of weddings in Kashmir Valley

By Emily Wax (Washington Post)

Srinagar: During every wedding season in the Kashmir Valley, love is in the air -- along with a thick cloud of grey smoke from thousands of cooking fires as platoons of wedding chefs, or wazas, slow-cook lamb and chicken over wood fires, sometimes for days.

Epic wedding banquets, each with dozens of courses that include succulent lamb kebabs, mutton meatballs and chicken curries, are an engine of Kashmiri culture. But they are also an environmental hazard: About 15,000 trees a day are cut down for these nuptial feasts, say researchers from Mercy Corps, an international aid group.

So now, in its latest attempt to find creative ways to fight climate change, the group is trying to reduce the carbon footprint of Kashmiri weddings.

"The Big Fat Kashmiri Wedding is going green," said Usmaan Ahmad, who is overseeing program development for Mercy Corps in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir. "If wazas go green, it's the perfect way to demonstrate the substitution of cleaner energy not just for weddings but for heating households, too."

As world leaders at the U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen struggle to hash out a plan for cutting emissions on a global scale, leaders in ecologically fragile regions such as Kashmir are coming up with small-scale solutions to shrink their carbon footprint and stave off or survive the effects of global warming, largely thought to be caused by greenhouse gases.

In Bangladesh, for instance, aid groups are building "floating villages," with schools and health clinics on boats, and offering special classes to help educate farmers and women about building shelters to survive flooding expected to be caused by warming.

Kenya built its first wind farm atop the Ngong Hills. It harnesses the breezes that sweep through the Rift Valley to generate clean power for the energy-starved East African nation.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir is home to glaciers that provide fresh water for one-fifth of the world's population. But scientists and United Nations researchers say the glaciers are shrinking faster than expected and, at the current rate, could disappear within 30 years.

"If we don't stop the glaciers from disappearing, this could become another potential for conflict over water supply," said Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, a glaciologist at the University of Kashmir. "If we can get weddings to go green, that means we are motivating people on the ground. That is a powerful thing."

Mercy Corps workers are persuading wazas to cook their wedding delicacies with something they had never thought possible: weeds from Dal Lake and other household waste such as potato and fruit peels that are mixed with clay, heated, then crunched into cleaner-burning briquettes.

The project is part of grass-roots efforts here to fight global warming in places that are most affected by the phenomenon.

In the nearby region of Ladakh, retired civil engineer Chewang Norphel, known as "Glacier Man," came up with a novel way to artificially create glaciers.

He builds small stone walls to slow the downhill flow of glacier runoff, causing it to freeze faster during the winter months.

"Norphel is a real, live example of acting locally and not just waiting to see what happens on the international level," said Nawang Rigzin Jora, minister for tourism and culture in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

To bring attention to the plight of those suffering most from the adverse effects of climate change, Mercy Corps and the state's Tourism Ministry organized the first-ever rock concert in Srinagar, to coincide with the opening of the Copenhagen talks. U.S. singer-songwriter Terra Naomi teamed up with Kashmiri crooner Waheed Jeelani for a local rendition of her hit single "Say It's Possible," inspired by the award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."

In Kashmir, social activists fear that the valley's natural beauty -- its apple orchards, stream-laced pine forests and lakes filled with pink lotus flowers -- is quickly disappearing.

Many scientists say man-made greenhouse gases are causing weather patterns to become more extreme.

In Kashmir, subtle changes in temperature have affected the region's vegetation. For centuries, Kashmiri folklore and botanical records show that the valley's narcissus flower usually blooms in April and May. But in recent years Kashmiri farmers and horticulturalists say the flower is blooming as early as January.

"That shows just how much nature's calendar is in disarray," said Ahmad of Mercy Corps.

Standing over steaming caldrons, the wazas at a local kitchen said they were skeptical of cooking their beloved dishes over biomass fuel briquettes made from weeds and food scraps.

"It might change the taste," said Fayaz Ahmed, 30.

"We've been cooking this way for over a hundred years, but if people want their wedding dishes cooked in a new way, we can try it," he said, ladling a massive mutton meatball out of a steaming pot.

"We will see what the lamb tastes like."

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