Srinagar: Kashmir's fish are dying because of eutrophication (excess of nutrients leading to oxygen depletion), turtle doves have almost stopped visiting paddy fields to pick grain and, alarmingly, lesser numbers of migratory birds have so far come to the Valley this year. If these are not enough indicators of an environmental doomsday, then read on.
People living on the banks of the Jhelum river in Srinagar city pounced to pick fish desperately floating on the river a few days back. "The fish were gasping for oxygen because the river has become saturated with nutrients due to the dumping of the city's refuse into it. "The enrichment of the water body with nutrients causes structural changes in the fragile ecosystem leading to depletion of oxygen and increase in levels of nitrogen. The fish that were seen floating helplessly on the surface of the river were actually battling for a breath of oxygen," a local environmental scientist, who did not wish to be identified, told IANS.
"Turtle doves used to come in their hundreds every year to pick the fallen grain left behind after harvesting in our paddy fields. "Armies of these beautiful birds would descend on our paddy fields to feed till just a few years. "This year there were hardly any turtle doves seen in our area. We had a good harvest, but the fact is that the area under paddy cultivation has shrunk alarmingly," said Haji Sidiq, who lives in Chanduna village of north Kashmir's Ganderbal district.
Sidiq's observation is backed by Manzoor Ahmad, 60, who lives in Koil village of south Kashmir's Pulwama district. "Alarmingly lesser number of turtle doves came to feed in our village this year. Agricultural lands have been shrinking because of their conversion for commercial and other purposes. I also believe the turtle doves have little left to feed on", said Manzoor Ahmad.
People living around Shallabugh Bird Reserve, the largest such for migratory birds in the Valley, have another frightening story to tell. "Very few migratory birds have arrived in the reserve this year. There is hardly any water left in the reserve for the migratory birds to swim and wade," said Gaffar Lone, 80, who compared his memories of seeing hundreds of migratory birds in the reserve around this time of the year with what he hardly sees nowadays.
Officials of the wildlife department say temporary embankments are being raised to ensure that various migratory bird reserves like Shallabugh, Hokarsar, Mirgund and Hygam have sufficient water levels to support the avian visitors. Migratory birds come to the Valley each year to spend nearly six months to ward off the extreme cold in their summer homes of Russian Siberia, Eastern Europe and China. There has hardly been any rain in the Valley during the last three months. This has left its rivers, lakes, mountain streams and springs shrunken to the bottom.
Most rural water supply schemes are now regulating the flow of water for domestic use. "This is something unheard of in the countryside. Water has always been the richest gift of God to Kashmir and today even this is to be rationed," lamented Zahoor Ahmad, 52, who lives in Haripora village of Ganderbal district. The state's weatherman, Sonam Lotus, said showers are likely in the plains of the Valley between November 14 and 15.
"This could break the long dry spell that the Valley has been undergoing for the last over three months," Lotus said. Kashmir's iconic Dal Lake in the summer capital Srinagar depicts a sad story of human callousness provoking Mother Nature to destroy us. "The lake literally smells. The discharge of waste by everybody living in and around the lake has brought it to the brink of extinction.
"Official efforts to save the Dal Lake will mean nothing unless the people take up the challenge to save this icon for posterity," said Bashir Ahmad, who lives in the city's Buchwara area. Dying fish, vanishing countryside, smelly lakes and shrinking glaciers -- Kashmir's story during the last two decades has not just been all about violence and blood. Is the environmental disaster going to be irreversible? Only Kashmiris can tell. (IANS)