Our planet earth is facing several challenges like global warming, climate change, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, and pollution. This is more challenging in Himalayan region especially in a place like Kashmir valley which is surrounded by mountains with glaciers, forests and high altitude lakes.
Deforestation and pollution in our water bodies of Kashmir due to urbanisation has been a great challenge for people and authorities now the air pollution is also threatening not only our environment but this is impacting human health as well.
10,000 deaths every year
Last year, the Director of Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences-SKIMS Dr Parvez Koul said that 10,000 deaths were attributed to air pollution in J&K. He also said that Srinagar City has the highest incidence of lung cancer in India and a large number of people were suffering from chronic lung diseases in J&K.
Dr Koul called for an urgent need to act and control air pollution by countering measures and initiatives like afforestation around Srinagar city especially growing more trees on the hills surrounding Srinagar city like Hari Parbat and Zabarwan mountains which can reduce the air pollution in Srinagar city especially. SKIMS Director said this during a function held in Srinagar in December last year. The function was held to launch the J & K chapter of Doctors for Clean Air and Climate Action at SKIMS.
The Department of Pulmonary Medicine SKIMS in association with Lung Care Foundation and Doctors for Clean Air and Climate Action have already decided to work towards reducing air pollution in Jammu and Kashmir and they have devised several progarmmes for the same. Prof. (Dr.) Arvind Kumar, Founder Trustee Lung Care Foundation and Chairman – Institute of Chest Surgery, Medanta, Gurugram gave a detailed presentation on “Understanding air pollution and its health ill effects’ ‘.
He said air pollution has become a national health issue that has hazardous effects on the health of people damaging lungs and other vital organs including brain, heart etc.
During his presentation in the technical session the SKIMS Director said that around ten thousand deaths were attributed to particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) exposure and there is a need to control it by reducing the air pollution. He also said that the increasing number of vehicles, construction sites, brick kilns, cement factories which emit pollutants and significantly pollute our air and affect health makes air pollution a health issue.
Professor Farooq Lone from Environmental Studies SKAUST Srinagar said biomass burning in Kashmir was a major source of air pollution besides other sources like unregulated establishment of cement factories, brick kilns and overload of vehicular traffic within cities.
Investing in Planet Earth
This year World Earth Day which was celebrated on April 22 had a beautiful theme “Invest in our Planet”. This emphasizes the importance of investing in planet earth for a sustainable future. But are we really serious about this? Are authorities at the helm of affairs thinking about the future?
At a time when our mother earth is facing serious climatic challenges, it demands immediate action as well. Are we serious about air pollution in Jammu & Kashmir? Is the J & K Pollution Control Committee cracking its whip on illegal brick kilns, cement factories and other factories in J&K which emit a lot of toxic gases?
In addition to the Government, NGOs, individuals and business communities have a role to play as well but unless governments don’t act seriously, commemorating the days like World Earth Day, World Water Day, World Forest Day, World Biodiversity or World Environment day with some attractive themes is meaningless.
I appreciate the initiatives taken by our Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry -KCCI which has set up a dedicated environmental committee and the present chamber office bearers are all conscious about environmental degradation in Kashmir.
Unfortunately the governments across the world especially in South Asia are more concerned about promoting the industries that cause pollution rather than taking steps to protect ecology or environment.
The Governments in Himalayan states have to be more cautious while building roads, highways , railways and tunnels through high altitude mountains and around the glaciers. While doing this they must think about the mountain ecosystem as well.
As air pollution is increasing day by day the J&K Govt and its institutions have to be more serious about it. There has to be a complete moratorium on setting up new cement plants or brick kilns in J&K. The pollution causing vehicles should be penalized heavily and mere checking pollution papers isn’t enough at all.
Black Carbon in environment
A study conducted by Earth Sciences Department of Kashmir University around 2014-15 revealed that Kashmir has three times more black carbon in the atmosphere than neighbouring states. The presence of high concentrations of black carbon is considered to be the major reason for the melting and shrinking of glaciers in the region.
As per the Earth Sciences department ‘s report more than 20% glaciers have vanished in Jammu & Kashmir during 60-65 years. According to a report published in 2015 in several local newspapers of Srinagar quoting Prof Shakeel Romshoo the then head of the Earth Sciences Department Kashmir University who is presently the Vice Chancellor of Islamic University of Sciences and Technology -IUST said that glaciers in the Kashmir were melting at a faster pace than the other glaciers in the rest of the Indian Himalayas.
“We are studying this but so far we have found that black carbon levels are three times more than the atmosphere in other neighbouring states”, said Dr Romshoo
The Black carbon is made up of ultrafine particles produced by the inefficient combustion of all kinds of fossil fuels. Even the wood, kerosene, diesel and emissions from brick kilns produce black carbon. The black carbon produces a dark soot, which efficiently absorbs light and converts it into heat. This property of black carbon to absorb heat makes it the second biggest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. The black carbon has not only been found in air but it settles down on glaciers as well and helps their fast meltdown.
The Earth Sciences Department of the University of Kashmir has studied 30 glaciers in Jammu and Kashmir of 100 plus glaciers. The study conducted around 8 years back revealed that two or three glaciers have completely vanished and all others have shrunk considerably. In-fact during my recent trip to Pir Panjaal mountains in the upper part of Doodh Ganga valley bordering between Budgam and Poonch this author saw huge layers of black carbon having polluted the snow layers and glaciers. I had filed a detailed video report on this issue in my weekly Inkishaf programme last month
At a time when 10,000 people die every year in J&K due to air pollution and when black carbon concentration has increased manifold impacting our glaciers, the Govt institutions like Central Pollution Control Board, Pollution Control Committees, Environment and Ecology departments have a great role to play.
It’s especially unfortunate that the J & K Pollution Control Committee is granting fresh permissions to set up brick kilns in Kashmir valley on agricultural land.
The Govt needs to revamp the Pollution Control Committee and post environmental engineers and scientists in this organisation rather than sending forest officers on deputation to run this organisation.
I appeal to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to take Suo moto cognizance of air pollution in J&K and seek an explanation from J&K Pollution Control Committee in this regard who are working very casually when it comes to control air or water pollution in J&K. The Doctors for Clean Air and Climate Action must also hold more consultations on air and water pollution in J&K so that more sensitization and capacity building on this subject is done.
- 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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