Let’s Learn to Prevent Disasters!

The harsh memories associated with the major flood disaster of September 2014 in Kashmir seems to have permanently remained with us. And whenever it rains for a few days it refreshes memory of those difficult times. What else can one do than to just remain a mere spectator and watch the turning of hard-earned-property into ruins whenever it floods in Kashmir? 

What lessons have we learned from the recent and past historical text that preserves tales of recorded flood disasters in Jammu and Kashmir? None, I guess. Because on ground we are not prepared to tackle any major flood hazard, and therefore, there are more chances that any hazard can turn into a major disaster. This often happens in Kashmir that has witnessed disastrous flooding events throughout its existence.

Ideally, to solve any flood related hazard in Jammu and Kashmir one ought to first understand the science of flooding. And this needs a concrete strategy where major work should contribute towards improving of science of flooding in the state. This has not been done yet, although, there are a few researches who are working towards this but flood hazards in the J & K state are a large scale research and planning problem that requires a multidisciplinary approach, an initiative yet to be taken. The need to work together to solve the flood hazard related problems in the state is the only solution that can take us closer to a feasible solution. This is mainly because the process of flooding is a complicated science where interaction of various components of the hydrologic cycle, which includes life and particularly humans, are operating together. Therefore to fully comprehend the science of flooding we have to first fully understand the various components of the hydrologic cycle plus geological foundation, topography, and particularly soil.

The major source of water during flooding is usually from rain and glaciers, and therefore it requires us to understand how much water is too much. And has this changed over the geological past. What was it like when Kashmir basin was formed, and how much has it changed over the geological history of the basin, and how much of this is due to the anthropogenic contributions? These important estimates have not been calculated yet, which will remain a powerful methodology to understand the basics of flood hazards in the state. The second important component is to understand the morphology, geology, topography, depth, and width of a channel (e.g. river) that carries flood waters. The depth and width of river channels must be estimated accurately to calculate the amount of water that such a river can carry. And remember if the carrying capacity of a river channel is higher than the available amount of water (via rain and glaciers) then it will not flood. But if the carrying capacity is less then it will surely overflow, and can lead to flooding. And the factors that influence the carrying capacity of a river channel must be studied. This reminds me of one of our favorite childhood stories “the thirsty crow, when the crow was unable to drink water from a jug because it was too less to reach, and therefore, the crow started to fill the jug with pebbles! Doing this increased the water level in the jug, and the crow was happy to drink the water from the jug. Now, think about what will cause an increase in the water level of a river channel? Sediments, right!  So if there are more sediments to fill the water channels this will cause an increase in the overall water level, and therefore, flooding. And if there are obstructions on the river bed this will also lead to flooding. For example building houses, hospitals, schools etc. on a river bed. But have we stopped our unscientific approach to construct buildings on river beds? Such a practice must be stopped immediately, and swift actions should be initiated to build a conscious and responsible society that will not indulge in such morally and scientifically incorrect exercises.

One of the major initiatives in building a responsible society is to educate people at large about the foundation of the land that they call home. This needs one to understand the roots of Kashmir basin, and how it was formed and what all it has gone through. The geologic origin and formation of the Kashmir basin is definitely a worthy lesson to build a bond with the land, its geological history, and how it has shaped the Kashmir basin over the millions of years. The geological origin of Kashmir basin is still debated in the scientific discourse, and this is mainly because there are a number of questions that still remain unanswered. Nevertheless, a significant portion of past contributions have enlightened us on its origin, and these studies argue that Kashmir basin was formed as a result of the continent-continent collision of two major tectonic plates (Indian and Eurasian plates). And a number of faults have played a major role in the formation of the basin. The foundations rocks onto which we have built our nests are primarily marine sedimentary rocks (formed in ocean) together with volcanic and plutonic rocks (igneous type). On top of these two major rock units is deposited a thick sequence, about 1,300 meters, of young sediments, which were derived from the rising mountains carved by rivers and glaciers, and subsequently deposited in the Kashmir Valley. Most of us live on top of these sediments. 

A brief interpretation of the rocks and sediments in Kashmir region tells us that our valley was initially a part of an ocean, and later that ocean was closed. This happened during the mighty Himalayan Mountain building processes (known as Himalayan Orogeny) when two major landmasses (India and Eurasia) collided. This process formed spectacular mountains, rivers, and a range of geomorphic features. One of such outcome is the stunningly beautiful Kashmir Valley, which is carved out of hard geological rock units that stand and guard it from all sides. Our work has established major faults have played a key role in shaping its design, and the active movement on some of these faults is still modifying its overall look. This valley was later filled with a thick load of sediments, derived from the rising mountains through erosion, carried by the rivers and glaciers. The drainage system is a key witness to the continuous modifications of topography and geology that this region has seen over the geological past. Although still debated, a significant portion of the previous studies have established that Kashmir valley was a huge lake, which means that the whole region was under water for a long period of time. And how can a lake form in the middle of mountains that surround Kashmir basin? And what caused such a lake to disappear on its own without the involvement of humans? These are some of the important questions that are required to be understood.

Therefore, the Kashmir basin, like other basins, is mainly shaped by tectonics and climate. It seems an active interaction between tectonics and climate often results in different landforms and climatic products that we see around us. Kashmir region has preserved these tales in sediments, topography, geology, geomorphology and drainage. Only a future study will unravel the complete chronology of geological and climatic events in this part of the world.

Importantly, the historical records of various flooding episodes in Jammu and Kashmir clearly demonstrate that climate change is not the major reason of flooding. In fact, it is clear from the study of topography and geomorphology that flooding episodes are actively shaped by topography, which are linked to tectonics, and it seems a bad climate aggravates it, which could be because of multiple reasons. Therefore, we ought to understand the reasons for changes in precipitation (rain), topography, river channel morphology over the geological history of the region, not just few hundred years of our existence. And what role life, particularly humans have played in it. Urbanization is considered as one of the major concerns for disastrous floods, which is linked to various developments and unplanned buildings that humans directly influence. Thus, it is highly required to map the total extent of human induced changes on lithosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere and compare such changes over the geological past when there was no human interference. Once such a comprehensive study is done it is only then that we can pinpoint the possible causes of the changes that we are currently going through. 

One of the major contributions from Jammu and Kashmir administration in understanding of the science of flooding would be to establish a large scale flood hazard studies research institute. Such a step will greatly improve our understanding of the possible causes and remedies of flood hazards in the state and it will empower local researchers and students to fully comprehend the science of flood hazards. The second major contribution would be to educate people about the foundation of Kashmir basin and how geological, climatic, and flooding events have contributed towards the overall development of the basin.

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