Written by Ayesha Zafar
If we talk about the impacts of climate change in Azad Kashmir, then the issue of water is also very important to be discussed because climate change is changing our way of life, which is causing water scarcity and making it difficult to produce food. More than 30 percent of the villagers in Jammu and Kashmir walk one or two kilometer a day to fetch water for domestic use. 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. While 96.5 percent of the world’s water consists of sea water. Rivers are an asset of any country where they help in reducing water scarcity, climate moderation. As Muzaffarabad is home to three major rivers that flow through Kashmir, the Neelum, the Jhelum and the Kunhar. The Neelum River merges into the Jhelum River at Dumel, but the plight of these rivers is no longer a secret. The history of the Neelam River is as old as the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Neelum River is a tributary of the Jhelum River in Kashmir. It is the river that supplies water to different areas of Azad Kashmir including Atmaqam, Neelum and other adjacent villages and then to the Neelum Jhelum Project. The Neelum River is diverted 41 km before Muzaffarabad to the Neelum Valley at Nowsehri, the main reason was to build a powerhouse at the Chhatra class location. For this reason, the population of 6 lakh 50 thousand of Muzaffarabad district reached the brink of not only water but also environmental disaster, because this river provides water resources to Muzaffarabad and surrounding areas. The cold waves of this river play a key role in keeping the weather and environment healthy and moderate in the hot summer. 70% of the population lives in villages. Most of the people of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir, depend on river water. Two major rivers flowing from Muzaffarabad are Jhelum, Neelum river which always had a flow of 700 to 800 cusecs feet. Now it has come down to less than 150 to 200 cubic feet. Due to which Muzaffarabad and other adjacent areas which are already suffering from water shortage are now facing more problems due to lack of water in the river. The water was flowing, but due to the unruly human population, the poor irrigation system, and the indiscriminate cutting of forests, the underground water reserves are decreasing. At the same time, global warming has put us at a crossroads where there is now enough water to see but not enough to use. Due to these climate changes where water scarcity has been observed, the cultivation of fruits and vegetables in Kashmir is also adversely affected as these changes are affecting the crops and their nutrients and malnutrition is also affecting health which includes heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stunted growth. Due to global climate change, the temperature is gradually increasing and the reason for this increase is the use of oil, gas and coal and these fuels are being used for power plants, transport and heating homes. Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases that trap the sun’s energy.
Another cause of increase in greenhouse gases is deforestation.
When trees are burned or cut down, the carbon stored in them is usually released, which is a major cause of climate change and water scarcity. In Kashmir, the intensity of heat and cold is also increasing day by day, where in Muzaffarabad, fans were rarely used in the houses in summer, now it is not possible to live without air conditioner for many years. Similarly, the cold is severe in winter. Unseasonal snowfall and sleet have become the norm. Glaciers are melting at a very fast rate which is not acceptable at all. All these threats are caused by different conditions, disasters and situations which are also harming human health. Many effects on the human body have been marked due to climate change, including stress, sleep, Asthma, kidney failure and allergies etc. A major reason for all these problems is population growth in the hilly areas along with unabated influx of huge number of tourists, huge increase in vehicles, and unscientific waste disposal. Human encroachment on animal habitats is also causing environmental degradation. In Muzaffarabad, due to the negligence of the district authorities and the Department of Environmental Protection, pollution is spreading in the rivers and canals, as waste is discharged from the sewers and drains in clear violation of the rules. Citizens claim that the Department of Environmental Protection and the local administration has failed to ensure implementation of environment-friendly laws in the region. “We use the same untreated water from the river… resulting in several skin diseases,”.
Many others in the area complained of the stench from the polluted rivers, while the role of Governments in the whole process of environmental degradation, which leads to climate change should be very important. Therefore, to prevent the environment from climate change, the Government needs to take steps as soon as possible. The government should reduce the influx of tourists during snowfall to protect the glaciers on the mountains from further damage, which is a major reason for the melting of the glaciers. Moreover, illegal cutting of forests should be stopped. Human activities in the environment including rampant increase in vehicles, unscientific disposal of waste, human encroachment on animal habitats, use of oil, gas and coal, discharge of waste from sewers and drains should be stopped.As such, every possible effort should be made to reduce the negative impacts of climate change on environmental activities otherwise it will lead to the serious damages.