June 28, 2022 9:22 pm

Don’t Fret Over Floods 

Flood Hazards in Kashmir are Manageable if science-based planning is followed 

THE ugly memories of the 2014 flooding routinely haunt us after a few days of continuous rainfall showering the vale. That flooding episode was so traumatic that it carved deep grooves in our hearts, and we are always scared when it rains. The recent episode of rainy days has rekindled those memory lanes, and we are again at the crossroads of what to do if the floods turn ugly again.

The question is ironic because if we turn the pages of flood history in Kashmir, it becomes apparent that flooding is genetic to the structural makeup of the valley. The valley was formed during the collision tectonics between India and Eurasia, and that collision is still ongoing, which is represented by the occurrence of earthquakes. Therefore, the birth of the Kashmir basin, and with that, the mountains that surround it, are a reminder that tectonics is central to the drainage and glacial systems.

Floods related to excess rain, landslides, and glacial melting are not new and have occurred even when there was no trace of human life in the Kashmir region. Past writers, such as Walter Roper Lawrence’s book the Valley of Kashmir, published in 1895, state that Srinagar occupies the flood plain area of the Jhelum River; therefore, it was technically wrong to build a city near the river. That wisdom is more than 100 years old. Yet, the administration and people have not taken that advice seriously and indiscriminately built the houses where they are prone to floods and earthquakes, the two significant hazards that Kashmir faces.

The science of flood hazards that was required to engage the public and guide the administration on where to build safely is more than 100 years old. Therefore, the new research on floods will add more data, but the main question is will it convince people and the administration to act.

If science-based wisdom is not used on the ground, it will be treated as a fictitious story. And that is perhaps what happened; people have not given any importance to safety and welfare and instead used their hard-earned money to build unstable, unsafe houses that threaten life. The danger is from earthquakes as well as floods. Therefore, planning for the worst scenario possible is required, and working on it now. For example, the construction of structures, towns etc., should be adequately, legally, and scientifically planned. It is always good to avoid water bodies for any township etc. The townships in the vicinity of water bodies should be audited and scaled following the safety requirement needed to prevent the loss of life and assets during floods.

Further, the major problem during flooding in Jammu and Kashmir would always be to efficiently manage the excess water flow, which can be handled if the carrying capacity of the Jhelum River is increased. This can be partially achieved through widening the channel and de-siltation processes, as siltation is one of the major causes of overflow in Jhelum. My research suggests that the siltation problem will be worst in the southeastern portions of the Kashmir valley because these regions are tectonically drowned. Therefore, subsided areas will be prone to inundation during flooding and will accumulate flood waters and sediments quickly. The existence of lakes in Srinagar and the Wular Lake suggests that tectonically drowned areas are prone to floods. The presence of the Jhelum River indicates that tectonics has given birth to the river, and it is still modifying its morphology; it is the only river that takes all the water out of Kashmir, which makes it unique. Therefore, handling and managing future flood disasters in Kashmir is challenging. For example, if this river is somehow impounded, it would cause a flood disaster, even in the absence of major rains, this could happen by an earthquake, and historical data have proved that. So, we have to remain vigilant of any eventuality that may unfold and learn from the past and use that as a weapon to prepare for the future. There are multiple ways in which flood disasters can happen, and what will save our lives and assets is to avoid staying near the water bodies, take proper precautions, use advanced technologies, and make living with flood hazards a reality.

Further, education is a critical ingredient to learning about hazards and how to stop them from turning into disasters. If people are aware of any disaster, they will possibly act and could save lives. Similarly, the administration could equip the relevant departments with facilities to carry out an efficient and timely mitigation exercise. Educational institutes could provide knowledge capsules like short-term disaster management courses to ensure that relevant and scientifically updated information is delivered to people.

The opening of new research institutes could provide appropriate resources and state-of-the-art facilities for researching earthquakes, landslides and floods. Such exercises can become efficient if scientific talks, seminars, and workshops are organized at the district and village levels. The role of media in disseminating updated and science-based knowledge is appreciated and a crucial step towards the creation of a resilient society.

  • Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Dr Afroz Ahmad Shah

Author is Assistant Professor in Structural Geology, Physical & Geological Sciences at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam. He can be reached at: afroz.shah@ubd.edu.bn