J&K ranks 3rd among Himalayan states vulnerable to climate change.

Srinagar: The ecologically-fragile Jammu and Kashmir is most vulnerable to climate change among states in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR), a study has revealed.

Being an eco-fragile zone, the state is confronted with environmental challenges due to global warming, unplanned urbanisation, deforestation and vandalisation of water bodies, according to the study titled ‘climate vulnerability assessment for the Indian Himalayan Region using a common framework’.

J&K has been facing erratic weather patterns for the past nearly two decades, resulting in drought-like situations, flashfloods and windstorms. Incessant rains and cloudbursts caused devastating floods in Kashmir in 2014. In November this year, the Valley received untimely snowfall, causing extensive damage to apple orchards in its southern areas.

The study was conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, Indian Institute of Technology Mandi and the Indian Institute of Sciences Bangalore in collaboration with the ‘Climate Change Cells’ of each Himalayan State including Jammu and Kashmir.

The study aimed to understand climate change vulnerabilities which could help in development of adaptation strategies and ecosystem management for the Himalayan region.

The vulnerability assessment was done on the basis of four major factors: socio-economic, demographic and health status, sensitivity of agricultural production, forest-dependent livelihoods and access to information services and infrastructure.

According to the study, the vulnerability index is “found to be highest for Assam and Mizoram, followed by Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Meghalaya and West Bengal, Nagaland, Himachal Pradesh and Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand”.

The district-wise assessment of the study relating to J&K was presented by Majid Farooq, scientist and state coordinator Climate Change Centre, Department of Ecology, Environment and Remote Sensing, at the recently-held United Nations COP24 Climate Change Conference organised in Katowice, Poland.

This is for the first time that a Kashmiri scientist has made a presentation about integration of vulnerability assessment in planning and climate change adaptation practices in J&K at the UNCCC.

This year’s theme was “changing together”, referring to the determination of all parties to adopt the course of COP24 decisions which are necessary to implement the Paris Agreement.

“The study has found that Jammu and Kashmir has the third highest vulnerability ranking among the Indian Himalayan States, mainly because it has no area under crop insurance, its most geographical area is under sensitive slope, it has least road density, low percentage of area under horticulture crops, relatively low participation in Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Guarantee Scheme, low livestock to human ratio and low percentage of women in the overall workforce, among other factors. Assam and Mizoram are most vulnerable to climate change among the Himalayan states,” Farooq told Greater Kashmir.

The study was conducted in J&K on various parameters crucial for adaptation to climate change such as irrigated area, per-capita income, area under crop insurance, forest cover and the extent of slopes, population density, infant mortality rate, communication facilities and livelihood options.

The data for these parameters has been taken from government records such as the census, annual reports and remote sensing data and field observations.

The team of scientists headed by Farooq found that Kargil district ranked highest on the vulnerability index, while Kathua and Udhampur were the lowest in relation to other districts assessed in the state.

“Vulnerability to climate change is not about how much high temperature or varied precipitation the state is going to experience. It is about social, economic and environmental resources you have access to. Therefore, it will include finance, infrastructure, planning and many other factors,” Farooq said.

He said this vulnerability ranking will help the government in prioritising districts, blocks, villages, communities, forest types and cropping systems in the state for adaptation and mitigation investments on scientific basis.

“Though the outcome of the study shows few districts are least vulnerable, but that doesn’t essentially mean that these districts are not vulnerable. It is just the intensity of vulnerability is lesser than others. This is just one of the aspects of addressing climate change issues in the state using rapid assessment. There are many more aspects which need to be researched.”

Although the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has accepted State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) submitted by the J&K government worth Rs 65 billion in 2014, however due to limited funding options available in central ministries, it is yet to carry out any work at large scale.

Till date, only one project proposal has been approved under the National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change (NAFCC) to the state’s agriculture department titled “Climate Resilient Sustainable Agriculture in Rain-Fed Farming Areas of J&K.

“But the intervention, being a pilot project, has been limited to Budgam block in Kashmir region and Bhalwal block in Jammu region because of meager funding,” Farooq said.

He stressed that instead of relying on limited availability of funding resources in central ministries, the state departments involved in implementing SAPCC should focus on synchronising the adaptation practices with the ongoing flagship schemes like MGNREGA, CAMPA and IWMP of the government of India. “There is a need for stronger coordination between science and policy. We have some leading researchers in the state, they should come forward and at the same time relevant departments should also reciprocate. The research being undertaken in our universities and research centres should be focussed on improving the adaptation strategies, with primary focus for usefulness and applicability of research for the society”, he said.

The study highlights that the Himalayan ecosystem is vital to ecological security of the region as it plays a crucial role in providing forest cover, feeding perennial rivers that are the source of drinking water, irrigation, and hydropower, conserving biodiversity, providing a rich base for high-value agriculture and landscapes for sustainable tourism.