By: Dr. Qasba Nabi

image_400x400Dr Arthur Neve, a missionary doctor, writes in his June 1899 classical “Picturesque Kashmir”, 

“The alluvial plain which borders the river from Islamabad to Baramulla is not interesting, for, almost as level as a cricket field, it is liable to inundation, and much of it is marshy, crops are neglected and trees are scary.

Now once we look at the the topography and habitations which have come up during the last one hundred years or so makes it very clear that the tendency and the preference of the people to live near the rivers and lakes has been more than glaring . 

The problem of flooding gets worse as the river moves more towards towns and cities , as more people get effected , their homes get flooded with water , roads and other infrastructure gets inundated under the deluge .As the observation Dr Arthur Neve , made about 100 years back that the valley between south and north is more like a cricket field , makes a huge sense . 

The habitations get inundated. If we look at the past history of floods in Kashmir valley these have been there since times and although major floods have made history like the one we had in September 2014. 

If the assumption that valley is almost flat from Anantnag (Islamabad) to Baramulla is true, the the very misused or often referred intervention of dredging becomes less relevant as the the only solution for mitigating the future floods. It is established that storm waters or flash floods or flood , in itself brings in a tons of thousands of sledge and slit with it, so it has the potential of undoing the best dredging done prior to flood. 

Dredging may have to be more scientific being highly capital resource intensive and unlikely to have lasting effects . We may have to map up the gradient flow and slit accumulation from from south Kashmir to North through central Kashmir spread to over 200 kms . Such study needs to be highly intensive and study of the depth of the river bed and budgeting of the accumulated slit, needs to be documented/mapped, after almost every half Km of entire river stretch at approximately at 400 points .

Let us have look at the areas of Srinagar which got under water post September 7, 2014 . The areas fall in the south west side of the Srinagar city. From Lasjan through Parimpora . The city centre Lal Chowk was fully under water including all important government offices, and critical infrastructure viz Civil Secretariat, PCR, SMC, DPL, all hospitals (except SKIMS Soura and Chest disease Hospital situated at a hillock ) and most of the POL stations. 

The 70 percent of the city came under 10-20 feet water and remained so for 10-20 days period. It happened as the volume of rainfall was enormously very high .A comparison of average rain- fall over the state during 3–6 September 2014 and the normal average rainfall for these dates shows that the total accumulated rainfall on these dates was 900% to more than 11,00% above their normal values . No human effort what so ever , could have stopped this disaster from occurring. 

What is important is to develop resilience in the form of preparedness to overcome the difficulties and handle post disaster challenge of the sorts.

Economically, what would another big flood mean to Kashmir? 

God forbid , we can not afford another flood like that of September 2014 , at least theoretically. But on the practical side the srinagar has developed enough resilience like people are highly sensitive to even very insignificant weather changes and do not leave it to Government to monitor the water levels at important locations instead frequently visit various bridges ( srinagar city has 8n bridges over river Jhelum) to get a first hand feel of the water level.

Most of the areas which suffered damages but have been adequately rebuilt from lasjan , kursoo, Rajbagh, Jawhar nagar Magarmal Bagh , Batmalloo, Bemina , Qamarwari , Lawaypora and Parimpora. Most of the houses and commercial establishments are fully secured through end to end insurance cover. But the Lal Chowk remains vulnerable to huge economical in case of another flood as the commercial space owners , have their residences far away from Lal Chowk and evacuations of goods wont be possible if the water level would rise rapidly during the night hours , but the saving grace is that most of them are fully secured with insurance cover.

SMC has raised the level of some of their dewatering station in South Srinagar, as that was principle recommendation and lesson learnt after 2014 , that offers now a huge advantage for dewatering of “post flood left over Water pockets “, which remains a challenge even after flood water has receded. We call it “Rajbagh lesson”, were water stayed for a very long period of time of over 20 days , which forced then authorities to undertake selected and guided road cuts . Even then HCM used to monitor it personally sometimes through mid night unannounced visits .

Hospitals and critical government infrastructure remains most vulnerable and as no resilience of sort has been developed unlike the general public where even people have reconstructed houses with kitchens and washrooms on top floors . No relocations or infrastructural modifications have been carried out in public infrastructure . Even the draft master plan has ignored the lessons learnt post September 2014 flood .

The impact of future flood could be that land prices in upper reaches of Srinagar (old city included ) would skyrocket and proportionately prices of land / real estate in most sort after areas ( flood prone) shall see a huge dip . Old Srinagar city shall get a fresh attention and would see a population / infrastructural shift , and shall set in the phenomenon of “reverse flow “ of both life and capital . Incidentally population of old srinagar has seen a dip post 1990 ( census2011), with minimum or nil life support infrastructure growth in last three decades .

What steps are required on immediate, medium and long term to avert a flood crisis:

It is now established that natural disasters can not be accurately forecasted or averted. But the buzz word is to develop resilience to minimise the damages and bounce back with increased vigour and confidence to normalcy. There are possible short and long term measures which need to be undertaken.

For the sake convenience, these presented below in bullet points under specific headline . The banks on the two sides of the Srinagar city are very weak and prone to collapse under heavy flood water . We may have to visit the “Gujarat model “ of river front concretisation (both for main River Jhelum, flood channel -including other small tributaries ) on the pattern of “Sabarmati River front Model “ from Pampore to Parimpora , if the Srinagar city has to be made secure from future flooding.

Besides above the following recommendations is borne out the personal experience , while handling the post flood situation sanitation crisis in Srinagar city.

The author, former Commissioner, Srinagar Municipal Corporation, is a senior Development Adviser