By: Hammad Gillani
Nestled in the northwest of Pakistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) is a region of unparalleled natural beauty. With an abundance of water resources, including rivers such as the Jhelum River, which serves as a primary source for irrigation and drinking water, as well as several lakes and glaciers, AJK is a land of ample opportunity for agriculture and hydropower generation. The water resources play a vital role in the region’s economic and social development, providing livelihoods for local communities and supporting the agriculture and hydropower sector. AJ&K is a region located in Pakistan with a total area of 13,297 km and a population of 4.045 million. The majority of the population relies on forestry, livestock, and agriculture for their livelihood. The area under cultivation is 13% of the total area and includes crops such as maize, wheat, and rice, as well as fruits like walnuts, apples, pears, and apricot. The area under the control of the Forest Department is 42.6% of the land area and mostly contains Deodar, Kael, Blue Pine, Silver Fir, and Chir-pine forests. The southern parts of AJK have hot summers and moderate cold winters with mostly monsoon rains, while the central and northern areas have a hilly and mountainous topography with valleys and plains. The region has been divided into eight agro-climatic zones with an elevation range from 360 meters in the south to 6,326 meters in the North. There are 239 glaciers and 76 glacier lakes in AJK, mostly located in the District Neelum.. The region’s scenic beauty is not only a visual treat but also play a vital role in enhancing its geo-economic value in the era of globalization. By focusing on its preservation of natural sites, renewable/ non-renewable resources and enriched cultures, the potential of these natural habitats can revive the tourist industry, local productivity, labor empowerment and foreign direct investment. By learning lessons from China, government of Pakistan and AJK can collaborate in various projects for promoting the domestic economy and management of natural resources for stability in a region.
Climate change is having a significant impact on water resources around the world. Like the other parts of Pakistan, Azad Kashmir has been also suffering from severe effects of climate change particularly in case of water channels. The annual rise in temperature and changing weather patterns have led to a number of challenges for the people of Azad Kashmir, including difficulties in access to fresh drinking water sources for domestic and dairy utility choking of natural underground water channels due to unplanned infrastructure development both in residential and commercial areas, increased flooding and landslides.
One of the biggest problems faced by people in Azad Kashmir is the scarcity of fresh water. Many people are forced to travel long distances to obtain water, and women in particular often have to make early morning trips to bring water back to their homes. Large ratio of urban population is depending upon water supply companies (water supply mainly from Abottabad-Mansehra to Muzaffarabad, Bagh and other areas of AJK) for fulfilling their daily water needs at high and undocumented rates per gallon. This scarcity of fresh water resources on the one hand has opened a black market of water supply carriage companies (majority are working without license) and supporting the monopolists in profit making in this new market. As Karl Marx’s idea of class difference and class struggle is also supporting in the above case of monopolists, as more powerful groups for their revenue generation (blue economy) and power influence are exploiting the less powerful group and struggling class of local population in AJK. This has created a conflict and chaos in the society. While, on the other hand the water quality of supplied water by local agencies to larger population is also serving as a one of the significant silent channel of contaminated water and water borne- diseases. The health of vulnerable communities in AJK is also at risk due to mismanagement of water reservoirs. Additionally, the garbage and sanitary waste from hospitals, schools, local markets, concrete industries inside/ outside the cities are often mixed with fresh water sources that lead to unprecedented damaging affects for the region.
The changing weather patterns, disturbance in seasonal rainfall patterns and droughts are also having a significant impact on water resources in Azad Kashmir. The rise in temperature and changed rainfall patterns are leading to fundamental shifts in the dynamics of glaciers, with complex impacts on river flows and water supply for local and downstream users. Furthermore, the unpredicted rain patterns and increased dry-spell cycles are decreasing snow input and leading to an accelerated shrinkage of glaciers.
In northern and high altitude areas, climate change is also impacting snowfall patterns, with the snow maxima shifting from December and January to February and in some areas even October-November and after a dry-spell remaining in April. This results in shrinkage of glaciers and increased threats of disasters like glacier lake outburst floods, avalanches, mud flow and floods to downstream areas, as 2015 Gilgit-Baltistan calamity is the living example of environmental degradation. Overall, the effects of climate change on water resources in Azad Kashmir are severe and are having a significant impact on the health and livelihoods of the local population.
To save water resources from the effects of climate change in Azad Kashmir, there are several measures that can save the area from disasters and loss of lives. One important step is to ban the use of plastic bags, as they are constantly polluting and clogging water sources. Deforestation is another major issue that contributes to climate change and should be addressed through reforestation and conservation efforts. Furthermore, proper surveys and technical planning are highly recommended before cutting mountains, constructing roads/ bridges and buildings to prevent landslides and other negative impacts. A village-level water storage system is also necessary to ensure that communities have access to clean water during times of drought or other water shortages. To further protect water resources, eco-tourism should be promoted and tourism near glaciers should be banned to prevent damage to these sensitive ecosystems. There is also a need of initiating community based awareness programs in every town, village and cities about the preservation of water resources and utility of water in an eco-friendly manner with the help of locally elected government members, NGOs and civil society. Overall, a comprehensive approach is required with the combination of aforementioned efforts for effectively protecting water resources from the effects of climate change in Azad Kashmir.
The writer tweets at @HammadGilani786