Special KEWA Report
The lakes of Jammu & Kashmir have been renowned for centuries for their serene and pristine beauty. Most of the lakes of Jammu & Kashmir are remnants of ancient oxbows created by numerous rivers as they meandered within the valleys. Having a complex and vibrant Eco-system, the lakes also became the center of life for the inhabitants of the state. These lakes and the other waterways of Kashmir have had a profound influence on the people. A balance and interdependence between man and nature developed; as a result, a unique culture emerged on the banks of these lakes surrounded and protected by the Himalayan Mountains on all sides. In Srinagar (Indian-administered J&K), in the Dal Lake, an entire community which lives on wooden houseboats and depends upon the lake for sustenance emerged.These hospitable boat people of Kashmir trace their descent from Noah. Entire families live on boats, clinging proudly to their traditional culture and accepting a way of life that was inherited from their ancestors. In Ladakh (Indian-administered J&K), a small community of nomads still herds yak along the shores of the giant Pangong Tso lake. In the northern part of the state, in Baltistan (Pakistan-administered J&K), a series of high altitude lakes exists in the high mountain valleys above Skardu. Jammu & Kashmir abounds with such natural treasures.
But with deforestation, increasing tourism to the region, and steady urban growth along the shores of some of the lakes, the centuries-old balance between man and nature has been disrupted and desperately needs to be restored.
Deforestation which is rampant in both Pakistan and Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir and the erosion of top soil that it has caused is having a devastating effect on the rivers and lakes. The silt and soil being washed off of the barren mountainsides is rapidly transforming the Himalayan water Ecosystem while hastening the shrinkage of the larger lakes.
The once-magnificent Dal lake, for example, has startlingly shrunk in size. Compared to 1907 records, the lake has decreased 50 percent in volume, from 22 to 11 square kilometers. In the intervening years, the lake has changed in other ways as well. Today, Dal lake has become a clear-cut example of environmental degradation in a Himalayan lake Eco-system. The process known as Eutrophication has begun to set in. Eutrophication results when the lake waters become artificially enriched with nutrients, causing abnormal plant growth. Runoff of chemical fertilizers from the vast drainage basin around the lake, sewage and other oxygen demanding wastes, which bring in 15 tons of phosphorous and 300 tons of nitrogen every year combine to place the lake's internal life processes under severe stress. Oxygen levels fall, the fish die out and the lake loses its aesthetic appeal. Decaying organic matter produces disagreeable odors and unsightly green scum of algae and weed infested waterways. Although the Dal has not reached such an advanced level of eutrophication, the process has begun to set in. Tourism has added increased pressure on the delicate environment of the Dal. For instance, the number of house-boats surrounding the Dal Lake in Kashmir has grown to 1400 from 400 in 1975. If current trends continue, the Dal Lake will be destroyed within 80 years.
In addition to an examination of cases such as the Dal Lake, the upcoming K.E.W.A. report presents other concerns regarding increasing tourism in Jammu & Kashmir ( in India and Pakistan administered Kashmir). For example, Pangong Tso in Ladakh was opened to tourism in 1994 which has generated fears that a similar negative impact will occur as has been observed in other Himalayan regions such as in Nepal. The upcoming report concludes with a series of suggested solutions for the safe-guarding of Jammu & Kashmir's lakes and waterways including possibilities for Eco-tourism and environmentally sound urban planning.
It is hoped that this upcoming report and others will bring about awareness in the administering governments and amongst the inhabitants of Jammu & Kashmir. And with this awareness, a hope that the present environmental threat to Jammu & Kashmir's lakes can be averted.
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