Haze over Kashmir

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The year 2016 has been particularly bad for air traffic as flights have remained grounded continuously for several days now due to poor visibility.  Although cancellation of flights due to poor visibility is not a new phenomenon in the aviation industry, the continuous cancellation of flights is a cause of inconvenience as well as concern. Kashmir valley with its pristine environment and thick forest cover should not experience any visibility issues especially due to pollution. Unfortunately, based on the available data, the extent of pollution in the valley has reached such an alarming stage that its consequences are going to be quite devastating. 

Over the years, Kashmir has been undergoing massive upending of the landscape and degradation of its environment. This unprecedented damage to the environment is not only producing a rare “haze” which results in poor visibility, but is also affecting the health and the welfare of the local population negatively. The image of Kashmir acquired by the NASA earth observatory on December 5, 2014 clearly shows the   massive degradation of Kashmir’s environment. The picture shows a “haze”, which seems like a pond, hovering over Kashmir. NASA assumed the haze developed from the burning of charcoal and other polluting gases. Since NASA does not have the exact details about the activities related to shifting landscape in Kashmir, I assume that the haze -apart from being a result of burning of charcoal and carbon emission, is also a result of the huge amount of cement dust and the pollutants emanating from the blasting of the Pir-Panjal mountain range.  

The expansion project of Kashmir’s National Highway and the railway project are causing irreparable loss to Kashmir’s vulnerable ecosystem.  The blasting of mountains has been releasing massive quantities of pollutants into the atmosphere.  Ominously, these pollutants do not disperse from the valley as the high mountains surrounding us act as a barrier. When the temperature begins to drop in November, these pollutants become stagnant forming a haze as demonstrated in the image released by NASA. These pollutants are expected to produce severe weather related disturbances and have an adverse effect on the human health. Furthermore, since Kashmir also comes under active seismic zone, blasting of mountains can increase the seismic activity. The increase in the frequency of earthquakes in Kashmir in recent years may be a result of this blasting and cracking of mountains. 

The expansion project of Kashmir’s National Highway and the railway project are causing irreparable loss to Kashmir’s vulnerable ecosystem.  The blasting of mountains has been releasing massive quantities of pollutants into the atmosphere.  Ominously, these pollutants do not disperse from the valley as the high mountains surrounding us act as a barrier. When the temperature begins to drop in November, these pollutants become stagnant forming a haze as demonstrated in the image released by NASA. 

By far, the pitfalls of construction of railway lines in Kashmir and the expansion of national highway around Pir-Panjal mountain range outweighs the benefits. The persistent grounding of air-traffic due to the haze over Kashmir could threaten the national security.  Undoubtedly, the haze won’t disappear as long as the blasting of Pir-Panjal mountain range continues. What is making the matters worse for the local population is that over the past several decades Kashmir has been witnessing a large increase in the construction of houses. This has led to a steady depletion of the forest cover.  The rapid shrinking of forest cover makes any construction around the Pir-panjal mountain range prone to repeated collapses due to rock fall and mountain skidding due to wind, snow and seismic activities.  

The capacity of the fertile land of Kashmir to sustain plant growth and expansion of forests could have acted as a natural sponge for air pollutants. Unfortunately, chronic corruption in the local administration and human greed compromised that bright spot. Unplanned growth of new residential and government sanctioned colonies has resulted in conversion of our fertile land into a wasteland. 

Another major implication of persistent pollutants in the air is the adverse effect it has had on the health of Kashmiris. Kashmir has seen a tremendous increase in cancer related ailments and other chronic diseases. Some of these health issues can be directly linked to the poor quality of air and water.  The massive construction activities close to farming areas and drinking water sources and overuse of pesticides may be causing the leaching of chemicals and pesticides into the water that people drink and the food they consume which in turn makes them susceptible to various life threatening diseases. 

 

Another major implication of persistent pollutants in the air is the adverse effect it has had on the health of Kashmiris. Kashmir has seen a tremendous increase in cancer related ailments and other chronic diseases. Some of these health issues can be directly linked to the poor quality of air and water.  The massive construction activities close to farming areas and drinking water sources and overuse of pesticides may be causing the leaching of chemicals and pesticides into the water that people drink and the food they consume which in turn makes them susceptible to various life threatening diseases.

Mismanagement of Kashmir’s environment is more threatening than the prevailing political uncertainty. If adequate steps aren’t taken to combat the rapid degradation of our fragile ecosystem, we will all be signing our own doom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Observer News Service

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