Sunday, March 3, 2024

Kashmir’s Wular Lake, vital for nearly 10,000 fishermen families, faces dire situation due to climate change

As the weather in Kashmir is facing severe alteration with a huge deficit in snowfall in the winter season, the desiccation of Walur Lake is taking a toll on fishermen like Bashir Ahmad whose livelihood is solely dependent on the lake. 

While expressing desperation, Ahmad, a resident of Bandipora district, says that the desiccation has badly hit their business of chestnuts and fishes. They harvest chestnuts from the Walur Lake, known as one of the largest freshwater lakes in South Asia.

“We have never seen this before, the water level is very low in the lake,” says Ahmad. The business of fishermen has been hit badly, If there was rain, the water level in the lake would rise, he said in a dejected tone. 

He said that the edges of Walur Lake are visible now due to the low water level.

“We used to sell chestnuts in winter season and that money was helping us to sustain in Summer but this year the business has been all-time low.”

The depth of water in the centre of Walur lake is around four feet and earlier it used to be around seven to eight feet, he claimed. 

Ahmad said that no official visited them to assess their situation. There are over 3500 license holder fishermen in my district, he said.  “We are very upset.”

In Kashmir Valley, there has been no precipitation for the last two months. The December month of 2023 witnessed a significant 79 percent deficit in precipitation and January 2024 has recorded a staggering 100 percent deficit.

Shakil Romshoo, a researcher and Vice Chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology Awantipora, said that Kashmir Valley has observed a consistent declining trend in snowfall during the last few decades. 

“This is primarily due to the increasing trend of temperatures during winters observed in the region, he said. 

Additionally, Snowfall during winters is vital to the Kashmir region as it provides water for irrigation of agriculture and horticulture crops and, when it melts later in the year during spring and summer, it is very important for the region’s water security.  

Apart from having an adverse effect on the fishermen’s livelihoods, and tourism economy, the absence of snowfall depresses tourists hoping to experience the snowfall in Kashmir.

Tourism, contributing to around 7% of Jammu and Kashmir’s GDP, and employing approximately 70,000 people, is particularly vulnerable to these changing climatic conditions. 

“Regarding impacts on tourism and other livelihoods, there is a significant contribution of water from snowmelt and glacier-melt to water bodies such as Dal lake, Lidder river, Sind River etc, and if the dry spell prolongs and extends into the Feb., we might have low water levels in our water bodies this summer, affecting the livelihood of the people dependent on services from water resources,” Romshoo said. 

With no alternative income source, the fishermen’s community, traditionally reliant on the lake, now seeks alternative employment. 

Ghulam Hassan Bhat, President of Mahigeer Association Bandipora, an association of Fishermen working in the district, says the fishermen’s community has been the worst hit.

“The fishes are invisible in the Walur lake… The chestnuts sat on the edges of the lake due to the low water level, some of them are eaten by birds and some spoiled,” he said. 

I am over 43 years old but I have never seen such a low water level in the Walur lake, he continues. “The older people I spoke to also repeat the same.”

Farooq Ahmad, president of the Sopore Fishermen Union, says thousands of people from over 18 villages are dependent on Walur lake. He says the desiccation of the lake is forcing fishermen to look for alternate employment. “The per day rate of labourers in my town is around ₹600 but the fishermen do it for ₹200 to ₹250 per day now due to the financial crises,” he claimed. 

They’re forced to do labouring at ₹250 per day, they have families, They have to give something to the families in the evening, Farooq continues. 

Even some fishermen take advance payment from the wholesalers (Consumers of fishermen) at 10% interest rate, he claimed. 

“The two fishermen were collecting over 50 Kilograms of chestnuts in a day but now they hardly collect 10 Kilograms per day,” he said. However it’s not limited to fishes and chestnuts only, the ‘Nadur’ (lotus stems) are also found less now in the lake, he claims. 

The decline in snowfall has been linked to a decrease in Western Disturbance occurrences and a gradual temperature increase, possibly influenced by Climate Change. These disturbances are the main contributors to winter precipitation in the Himalayan region, and their decreasing frequency is a significant factor in the overall reduction of snowfall.

The ongoing El Niño phenomenon in the eastern Pacific Ocean is proposed as an additional element influencing global atmospheric circulation and playing a role in the reduced precipitation in the region.

El Niño, a climatic phenomenon, denotes the abnormal warming of surface waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, representing the “warm phase” of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). This warming leads to elevated sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

This temperature increase prompts a change in atmospheric circulation, causing decreased rainfall in Indonesia, India, and northern Australia while intensifying rainfall and tropical cyclone formation in the tropical Pacific Ocean.

An independent weather forecaster, Faizan Arif said that the recent dry spell, prevailing over the last 45 days, and that too in winters isn’t common to see. “Certainly, this is going to affect agriculture and horticulture sectors on a large scale.”

He also said, “Jhelum is currently flowing at the all-time lowest water level.”  In 2022, we saw Jhelum and other springs flowing at a very low water level in the Spring season due to prolonged dry weather, such that people were unable to irrigate their lands. Paddy sowing was hugely impacted that year and the overall produce was 25% less than what it should have been, he added. 

Director of Meteorology Centre Srinagar, Mukhtar Ahmad said that there are chances of light to moderate snow/rain at many places in Kashmir valley from 25 January to 2 February.

The negative impacts of rising sewage on aquatic species and fishermen’s livelihoods were also emphasized by the fishermen. They further alleged that the Walur Lake dredging had not been carried out at full speed by the authorities.

Ahmad while highlighting their miseries said that the weather conditions in the valley have been very bad. 

“As people’s actions are, so are Allah’s decisions,” Ahmad added while talking about the special prayers offered in various parts of Kashmir valley seeking snowfall.

Bhat Yasir
Bhat Yasir
Bhat Yasir is a Kashmir based Journalist, studying Mass Communication and Journalism. He can be reached on Twitter at BhatYasir_
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