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From Floods to Drought, Kashmir Wrestles with Climate Extremes

SRINAGAR INDIAN ADMINISTERED KASHMIR — Sitting in a row as the sun beats down, more than a dozen men fish from a small peninsula that has emerged along the Jhelum, one of the major rivers in Indian Kashmir.

From heavy rains and flash floods earlier this year to a heat wave in September that saw temperatures in the Kashmir Valley hit peaks not seen in more than a century, the impact of the extremes of climate change are surfacing, sometimes in unexpected places.

“I had never set foot on the riverbed before. This is the first time all of us are witnessing the lowest water level of the Jhelum,” said Mushtaq Ahmad Dar, a local produce salesman. “People are engaging in various activities on the exposed surface of the river that looked threatening a few months ago.”

Three months ago, the Jhelum’s banks expanded beyond its capacity due to excessive rainfall until the last week of May. The continuous rise of the river’s water level then created panic among residents who worried that the region might see extreme flooding similar to summer 2014 when hundreds were killed and nearly a million were displaced.

Dar said that after the floods in June and July, it was like the sun was reborn in August and September.

“Rivers, canals and streams have dried up,” he said, adding that Kashmir now needs more rain.

The absence of rainfall and the heat wave caused a scarcity of water in different parts of the valley, including some areas of the capital city, Srinagar. People from multiple villages through the Kashmir Valley collected contaminated water to drink.

“Our area already faces [a] shortage of drinking water, but this year, our problem multiplied as we faced [an] acute water shortage. We collected contaminated water from a stream and utilized it for consumption,” Farooq Ahmad, a resident of the Nasirpora area of Budam district, told VOA.

“The water from the stream was filtered and later on boiled so that we can consume it,” he said, adding that villagers requested the Jal Shakti Department — a government agency that ensures a clean water supply for drinking and irrigation purposes — to send water tankers to the village. “But no one cared.”

In a recent interview with the English daily newspaper Greater Kashmir, Ashok Kumar Gandotra, chief engineer of the Jal Shakti Department, admitted that local residents are facing a drinking water crisis.

“Most of the sources, including the mighty River Jhelum, have almost dried up,” Gandotra said. “People are facing a crisis. When there is a problem in the source, how can there be no problem?” he said, adding that the department is trying to meet the requirement by supplying water through tankers where there is acute storage.

Aijaz Rasool, an environmentalist, attributes the rise in temperature in the Himalayan region to climate change and global warming. He noted that in September, the Kashmir Valley recorded its second hottest day for that month in 132 years, when the temperature rose to 34.2 degrees Celsius on September 12. Average temperatures in September are typically between 24 and 28 degrees Celsius.

“Kashmir is located between two Himalayan ranges — the Karakoram on the Afghanistan side and the Hindukush on the Indian side — and both regions are experiencing the impact of climate change and global warming,” Rasool told VOA. “Glaciers are melting, rivers and streams are drying up, and our water reservoirs are getting depleted. As a result, our valley is suffering on multiple fronts.”

Rasool said developed and developing countries must find a way to collaborate to combat climate change and global warming. The 2015 Paris Agreement set a goal to limit the increase of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. According to the United Nations World Meteorological Organization, temperatures between June and August of this year were the hottest three months ever recorded.

Source : VOA News