Excess rainfall, not cloudbursts caused Kashmir floods: DERS-ISRO study

Says 287 villages with population of 22 lakh were affected due to deluge; Asks Govt to have sound flood control mechanism

Negating cloudburst theory, a study by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has attributed primary cause of recent floods to a record 17.7 inch (450 mm) rainfall occurring in just 30 hours in catchment areas of river Jhelum in Kashmir.

The study titled ‘A satellite-based rapid assessment on floods in Jammu & Kashmir–September, 2014’ has been conducted jointly by the Department of Environment & Remote Sensing (DERS) and ISRO. It has revealed that the recent floods inundated 557 sq kms of Kashmir Valley and affected 22 lakh people. The study, considered as most detailed about floods so far, was presented to the state government by Suresh Chugh, Director DERS.
The study blames confluence of three rain-bearing systems over Punjab that triggered heavy rainfall in the state, for the floods. “J&K received incessant excessive rainfall during 3-6 September because of the development of a deep depression. Shopian district of J&K received 2953%, Kulgam 1850%, Anantnag 1687% and Pulwama 2380% excess rainfall over normal in the week ending 9th September 2014,” the study reads.
During this period, all districts except Poonch received high rainfall. “The glaciers and hard-rocks produced lot of run-off, the soil of the region was already saturated and incessant high rainfall for four days generated unprecedented floods. It also breached Jhelum river, eroded banks of other rivers, damaged communication, other infrastructure, caused deaths of human beings, livestock and wildlife,” said Majid Farooq, researcher of the study.
The study has used data from number of domestic and foreign satellites including the highly sensitive TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission) of the NASA. “Lidder Catchment received the maximum rainfall of 277 mm with adjoining catchments receiving around 200 mm of rainfall which was way above normal,” said the study.
The previous records of such intense rainfalls were made in 1903,1911,1917,1928 and 1992, which were all followed by heavy floods.
The study revealed that despite “reported 84 breaches/cuts” the water discharge at Sangam on  6th September was 1,35,000 cusecs clearly indicating the magnitude of September 2014 floods. “On the other hand the carrying capacity of Jhelum in Srinagar city is about 35,000 cusecs and another 15,000 in the supplementary channel,” it said.
The study also gives a first picture of area of impact due to these floods. “From the integrated analysis of multi-date-derived flood layers it was observed that about 557 sq kms were inundated during these floods,” said Farooq who was camping at Hyderbabad during the study. “The inundation peaked on September 08, when it affected 370.6 sq kms and after that the sheet of water receded from south Kashmir and it started to inundate new areas downstream.”
According to the satellite data, Bandipora was the worst affected with its 148 sq kms area coming under water. It was followed by Pulwama where 102 sq kms of area was flooded. “The third and worst affected was Srinagar whose 100 sq km area was inundated. Here the problem was acute as most of the inundated area comprised of high density residential areas,” said Farooq. In Islamabad (Anantnag), 43 sq kms were inundated. The least affected was Ganderbal, where only 6 sq kms were flooded.
Out of the total affected area affected, agriculture comprised of 444 sq kms and built-up (houses, commercial buildings etc) area was 67 sq kms.
“As on 25 September, 287 villages/wards with a population of 22 lakhs were affected in Kashmir division due to these floods,” said Farooq. “In Jammu we found that excess rainfall caused flashfloods and triggered a number of landslides especially south of the Pir-Panjal range.”
Painting a grim picture for future, the study revealed that the intensity and occurrence of such extreme events will increase in future. “The sooner we accept this reality the better it is. Every single study and data points towards the recurrence of such events and unless we learn to manage them, they will bring terrible losses to us,” said Farooq. “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and all other future weather models indicate that rainfall on higher altitudes will increase there will be 30% increase in the incidence of extreme rainfall in Asia.”
The heavy rains may also increase the melting of glaciers and add to the ferocity of floods and deluge, says the report. “Himalayan water tower consisting of glaciers, snow, rainfall and lakes/wetlands has high potential of flooding being hiked by increasing number and intensity of extreme storms because of climate change,” the report said.
The report has squarely pointed at destruction of valley’s natural system of water absorption and drainage, encroachment of wetlands and lack of dredging as the reasons that have compounded the flooding problems.
The study also criticized the government over its flawed policies. “Most of the housing colonies built in the floodplains of Jhelum and along the Jhelum river course stand regularized by the successive governments and thus, encouraging the conversion of the remaining wetlands in the vicinity of Srinagar and elsewhere to built-up enclosures,” said the report.
The study recommended immediate de-siltation of lakes, revival of flood basin of Khushalsar, Gilsar, Anchar, Hokharsar, Shalabugh, Haigam, preparing a flood zonation map, construction of an alternate flood channel from Sangam/Kandizal to Wular and regular dredging of rivers to meet the possible future scenarios.

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