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Kashmir and climate change – how global warming is affecting ‘paradise on earth’

Kashmir is witnessing extreme weather patterns due to global warming like never before. The increased heat will not only impact the health of the people but also the economy of Kashmir.

Kashmir witnessed extreme heat waves this year.

The world today is witnessing the harmful effects of climate change with a rise in temperature, extreme weather conditions, biodiversity loss, health and economic risk and much more. While the effects of climate change are being felt in every corner, Kashmir, much like many other regions in the world, is also grappling with the repercussions of severe weather conditions.

Kashmir, situated at the northern borders of India, is often known as Paradise on Earth. The beauty of the region lies in its snowy glaciers, lakes, picturesque mountains and green meadows. The climate in Kashmir has always been a highlight as every season is mild and temperate. However, during the past few years, the climate in Kashmir has been significantly changing.

In Kashmir, the temperatures are on the rise. A report by ActionAid India, stated that on average, Kashmir has shown a rise of 1.45 degrees Celsius (°C) over the last two decades. As per India Meteorological Department (IMD) monitoring, Kashmir’s temperature is significantly rising by 0.05°C per year.

Srinagar witnessed its warmest June day in 18 years on June 23, 2023, with a temperature of 35.0°C The previous record was set on June 3, 2018. The famous hill regions in Kashmir, Pahalgam and Gulmarg which are known for their mild climate, noticed 30.2°C, the second-highest maximum temperature in June in 15 years.

The rising temperature in Kashmir will have a profound impact on the glaciers. Some of the most significant glaciers are found in Jammu and Kashmir. One of the highest mountains in the region is the Kolahoi Glacier which is situated in the Anantnag district. This glacier, from which the Lidder River flows, provides water to Anantnag's people, who mostly use it for drinking and agriculture. It then drains into the Jhelum River. One of those affected by global warming is Kolahoi Glacier. The glacier has shrunk in size, since 1962, the glacier has shrunk by 23 percent and is expected to lose more as a result of climate change.

The rise in temperature can accelerate the glacial melting, which could disrupt the balance of water supply which will put at risk the region’s water security, agriculture and hydropower generation. The melting of glaciers will also have an impact on the food and water availability of the people who are dependent on the rivers. The melting of snow can also cause the glaciers to shrink over time. Kashmir is now prone to Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF), as many glacial lakes have been formed in the region. A GLOF is a type of outburst flood that occurs due to the failure of a dam that contains a glacier lake, this can devastate the downstream infrastructure, cause casualties, and affect the livelihoods of people living in the mountains.

The heat can significantly impact the apple industry of Kashmir. The agrarian economy of Kashmir is mainly reliant on the cultivation of fruits such as apples, cherries, and almonds. Heat waves can interfere with the fruiting and flowering cycles, reducing yields and quality. Furthermore, diseases and pests that were constrained by the colder climate can now spread as a result of rising temperatures.

Kashmir has a thriving apple sector. The moderate climate and fertile soil offer a perfect environment for apple production, making it one of the most productive apple-growing places in the country. The apple industry is vital to the economy of Kashmir, which also provides employment to a large section of the population. Due to the temperature rise in March this year, the early sprouting of apples happened. However, the temperature dropped dramatically in April due to heavy rains, which hampered the blossoming stage of apples and other crops. Therefore, the extreme and fluctuating weather events in Kashmir affected the paddy crops and apples. A nearly 30 percent drop in apple production has given a significant blow to the region's main sector, leaving many families in massive debt. The rise in infectious diseases and insects, on the other hand, has led to a decrease in productivity and black smudges on apples.

Pastoralists are particularly vulnerable to climatic changes. Because of their nomadic lifestyle, they rely on forest resources for their subsistence. The pastoralists are dependent on livestock rearing but now the centuries-old lifestyle is now causing problems for the nomadic communities. The arrival of early summers in Kashmir forced the largest ethnic tribes of Kashmir, Gujjar and Bakarwal, to reach for the higher pastures. However, they were shocked to see that the snow had not yet melted and the sheep could not survive the icy weather. This can also result in the loss of livestock. The families traveling with their livestock always have to endure the worst of the weather. The changes in the weather pattern and continuous floods, droughts and cloudbursts have a significant impact on pastoral community and livelihood. The fluctuation in climate has had an impact on the farming of livestock as well, as animals suffer from heat stress and a lack of agricultural pastures.

Kashmir’s economy is heavily dependent on the tourism sector, attracting thousands of visitors with its beauty and pleasant climate. In 2023 alone, Kashmir recorded more than 16 million tourists, the highest ever, and breaking last year’s record. However, extreme heat is all set to deter tourists and the sectors that depend on tourism. This can eventually lead to economic challenges, including job losses and reduced revenue. While most parts in the country were facing severe heat waves, people trooped into Kashmir to escape to pleasant weather in Kashmir but only to find that the temperature in capital Srinagar was 30-31 degrees Celsius.

Famous places for tourists like Gulmarg, Sonmarg and Pahalgam, had very little snowfall as compared to the past. The melting of the snow and glaciers can also have a huge impact on mountain tourism.

The intense heat in Kashmir this year caught many residents and tourists off guard. Unlike Kashmir's temperate environment, the high temperatures created a difficult situation for locals and tourists. The situation became more difficult as many accommodations, including hotels and houses, were not equipped to handle such extreme heat. In a region where air conditioning was once considered unnecessary, the lack of cooling facilities can be a huge concern. Numerous hotels have discovered that they are ill-equipped to provide the comfort tourists want during this heatwave since they are unaccustomed to such high temperatures. This will not only affect the tourism industry but will also make it difficult for the locals to be on terms with the changing climate patterns.

In conclusion, the rising temperatures in the Kashmir region pose a complex and multifaceted set of challenges. As climate change will continue, it will impact the overall being of the region. It is important for the local people to take sustainable steps that can make an impact on Kashmir and its ethereal beauty.

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