For hundreds of million years Kashmir Valley is supposed to have remained under Tethys Sea and the high sedimentary-rock hills seen in the valley now were once under water. Geologists have come to believe that Kashmir Valley was earlier affected by earthquakes. Once there was such a devastating earthquake that it broke open the mountain wall at Baramulla and the water of the Satisar lake flowed out leaving behind latchstring mud on the margins of the mountains known as karewas. Thus came into existence the oval but irregular Valley of Kashmir.
In September 2014, the Kashmir region was hit by heavy floods from torrential monsoon rains. The regions of Jammu and Kashmir in India, as well as Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Punjab in Pakistan, were affected by these floods.
There are three reasons why the floods have caused so much damage:
- deforestation in the catchment areas of rivers – especially Jhelum, Chenab and Indus – and of streams;
- unplanned construction of buildings and roads, especially in the floodplains of the rivers and the banks of the lakes;
- rampant and unchecked dumping of garbage in the rivers and lakes;
Coming to the second reason, for decades the elite in the Kashmir valley has been building fancy villas right on the floodplains of rivers and streams, sometimes even on tiny islands in the middle of the river. The process has been repeated and accelerated on the banks of famous lakes like Dal and Nageen in Srinagar, with some hotels and restaurants even being built with their foundations in the lake – a result of the tourism boom.
As the Jhelum River meanders through Srinagar, every neighbourhood adds its untreated household garbage to the river – once again a recipe for choked riverbeds and lakebeds and for the water to overflow whenever it rains heavily.
Overuse of chemical fertilisers, especially in the fruit orchards throughout Kashmir, also exacerbates flooding. The excess fertiliser gets washed into streams and rivers, where it causes eutrophication, and again leads to algae blooms which choke waterways.
Observers are bemoaning that Srinagar is looking like a vast lake. Urban planners, environmentalists or anybody with common sense is not surprised. Without immediate corrective action, the calamity is likely to strike again.