Rapid Glacial Melting in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh Threatens Water Supply, Agriculture

Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh are called the water tower because of their countless glaciers, but the speed at which these glaciers are melting has experts believing that by the end of this century, 70% of them will be wiped out. With all of India facing one of the worst heatwaves, Jammu and Kashmir have been no different. The direct impact of the heatwave is on the glaciers in the Himalayan region. According to data, there are around eighteen thousand glaciers in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, and all of them are melting rapidly as the heatwave continues in the region.

The heatwave and increase in normal temperatures over the years have led to massive melting of the glaciers in the region. The biggest glacier in the Kashmir Valley is the Kolahoi Glacier, and experts say that it has lost around 23 percent of its mass in the last few decades due to the rise in temperatures and below-normal precipitation in the winters.

Air pollution, deforestation, and the rise in normal temperatures are the main factors for the melting of these glaciers in the higher reaches of Jammu and Kashmir. Shakil Romshoo, a glacier expert and VC of the Islamic University of Science and Technology, said, “The Indian Himalayas have around 33 thousand glaciers, and in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh there are around 18 thousand glaciers.

Some of the glaciers are big, such as the Siachen glacier. It is around 900 square km in length, and its breadth is around 65 km. The whole Himalaya is called the water tower of Asia. It provides water to around 800 million people. In the last few years, heatwaves in South Asia have become a normal phenomenon, especially in March, April, and May. The temperature is abnormally high. We are monitoring the change in the weather, which has led to unprecedented melting of glaciers. It will eventually ensure we lose our glaciers faster than expected. It will impact everyone, especially agriculture, drinking water, and tourism. It will have an adverse impact on every sector.”

Horticulture and agriculture are major contributors to the GDP of Jammu and Kashmir. Most of the valley’s agriculture and horticulture land depends on the melting of snow on higher reaches, which fills up the streams and rivers. Data has revealed that the Kashmir Valley has lost over 30,000 hectares of agricultural land in ten years.

“It may not impact water availability in a day or months, but it will happen slowly. The change in winter precipitation has been below normal. Winter precipitation replenishes the water bodies, and this is not happening due to less precipitation. Autumn is the most affected as water hits the lowest levels. We normally used to stay around 5-6 feet, and now the same water level remains below zero. The water shortage is already affecting Srinagar and many other parts of the valley.” said Faizan Arif, Weather Analyst and Forecaster.

The erratic melting of these glaciers in the higher reaches will also impact power generation in these areas. Experts believe the water scarcity in the region could have an adverse impact on hydroelectric power projects. The power projects in Jammu and Kashmir are the main source of electricity for the whole of North India.