September 2014 floods caught everyone off-guard in Kashmir – be it the government functionaries or the common masses. After the deluge that caused many deaths and huge devastation to public and private property, people expected from the government and its concerned departments to take appropriate measures to minimize the chances of such devastating floods hitting the valley again. But few days of rains recently and its effect on ground is testimony to the fact that Kashmir stands where it was in 2014 in terms of flood vulnerability. There are no indicators to suggest that government’s preparedness to save human lives and property in case of floods has improved.
A number of reports that appeared after September 2014 deluge showed that government was de-silting and dredging Jhelum to increase its water flow and retaining capacity. However, few days of rain in Kashmir valley recorded lately raise many important questions. For one, had it rained for a day more or so, would it not have Kashmir valley, especially the south and central Kashmir submerged in water in a similar way like that of September 2014? Two, what impact the so called dredging of Jhelum has had on the water flow and retaining water capacity of Jhelum? As far as statistics are concerned, there seems be no data available on how much rain and glacial water led to the September 2014 deluge and how much it rained in last few days which almost saw the Valley again on the brink of floods. There were several areas in south Kashmir, which were flooded, and a flood alert was also declared in valley.
For a common man the government claims seems minus the veracity. Several environmental experts after September 2014 deluge had suggested measures to minimize the chances of another major flood hitting the valley, but all concerned authorities after 2014 seem to have confined themselves to perfunctory dredging of Jhelum, which in any way does not appear to be working as a solution.
Major causes of September 2014 deluge were the irresponsible planning and developmental works and exploitation of natural resources for short term gains at the cost of immense damage to be suffered by future generations. There has been no end to the concrete construction along the water bodies and in wetlands, which in the past retained most of the floodwater. Most of the wetlands in the valley and especially around Srinagar city have been converted into commercial and residential colonies, and whatever of the wetlands is left is still being encroached upon by illegal constructions. Successive governments can’t feign ignorance about the fact that most of the wetlands have either been already converted into concrete jungles or are being transformed into residential and commercial hubs. Same is the case with waterways. Valley has had many waterways in the past that used to drain the water away from residential areas. But due to the filling of these waterways to make way for constructions, the chances of September 2014 like floods hitting Kashmir have gone up manifold. Successive governments have failed in both clearing the waterways and retrieving the wetlands. Mere dredging of the river is not an ideal solution to reduce flood vulnerability in Kashmir. Unless the plan is supplemented with proper sustainable developmental and bringing the Valley back to the point where it used to withstand deluges without destruction to property and crops, it is not going to work.
Most of the areas in and around Srinagar city also get inundated by the rainwater in absence of proper drainage system. Most of the colonies on the outskirts of city, apart from the ones that have come up on wetlands, are ill-planned and without any consideration for environment. In this scenario, expecting few days rainwater wouldn’t bring disaster in civilian areas is like deliberately shutting one’s eyes to inconvenient truths and realities.
Kashmir valley came very close to a deluge in the last few days, and this might not be the case in coming months. In order to minimize the chances of floods hitting the valley and consequent devastation, government must reverse its ill-planned developmental policies and retrieve the waterways and wetlands under human habitation. There is also urgent need to stop all constructions along the Jhelum and along major water bodies in Kashmir. At the moment, this might seem impractical and unattainable task, but unless government functionaries start planning for it, we might witness many more devastating floods in coming years.
In present circumstances, the best the government and people can do is to reduce the impact of floods on humans, and public and private property by preparing for the inevitable. Any laxity on part of government during floods would be criminal on its part. People on the other hand would have to take measures like moving to safer places and securing their movable properties before getting marooned by floodwaters.