‘Deluge covered 912 out of 1760 sq km flood plains’
The dilapidated flood control structures and inordinate delay by the state government to breach traditional Kandzal embankment of river Jhelum led to submergence of the Srinagar city during recent floods, a latest study has revealed.
“The extreme rainfall event observed in the first week of September 2014 in the Jhelum basin turned into the worst disaster in the flood history of the Jhelum. It was exacerbated by the existence of the injudicious socioeconomic structures and massive land system changes in the floodplains that have interfered with the hydraulic processes. The scenario was further worsened due to the dilapidated flood control structures and the institutional failure on managing the enormity of the extreme flooding,” the study titled ‘2014 Extreme Floods in Kashmir: Genesis, Magnitude and Correctives’, reads. The study—conducted by Prof. Shakil A Romshoo, Head of the Earth Sciences department at Kashmir University on the basis of satellite imagery and field visits—has identified 22 breaches on river Jhelum embankments through which the flood waters entered the summer capital.
The Jhelum waters spilled over the embankments along major part of its stretch from South Kashmir to Srinagar city. On September 7, the floodwaters entered the Srinagar city through several breaches along the weaker sections of its embankments.
“Due to overflowing of the Jhelum three to five feet above its banks, the recorded water levels went exceptionally high, much above the drainage capacity of the river in Srinagar. Out of 1760 sq.kms of floodplains, 912 sqkms were flooded in the Jhelum basin during the flooding.
The flood inundation levels recorded in the floodplains of the Jhelum were the highest in the archived hydrological history of Kashmir with several habitations in Srinagar city inundated up to 20 feet,” the study states.
Romshoo states that the fragile Jhelum embankments were permeable at some places along the Jhelum and as a result floodwaters leaked through them. “This may actually have aided the breach and collapse of these embankments as observed at 22 places from Pampore down to Chathabal in Srinagar city (See Table), and 16 of them were observed in and around Srinagar city only,” it states.
The study states that the traditional practices of the “deliberate breach” of the Jhelum at Kandizal before it enters Srinagar city and the opening up of the floodgates to divert the Jhelum waters to Dal lake to reduce the flood discharge entering the Jhelum in the city were not followed this time, leading to submergence of the city.
Elaborating, the study states that based on the past experience and 2014 flood scenario, “a deliberate breach of the Jhelum at Kandizal in time before it naturally breached would have substantially reduced the magnitude of inundation levels in the city as large amount of floodwaters would have been diverted to the traditional floodplain basin in that area, thereby appreciably reducing the discharge of the Jhelum waters entering Srinagar city.”
However, the study maintains that the decision about not opening the floodgates meant for diverting the Jhelum floodwaters to Dal lake—when the river was overflowing its banks—may have had a positive impact on the flood situation in certain parts of the city. “In fact, this saved several areas in the city from getting inundated,” it states.
The study states that “releasing of the Jhelum floodwaters ahead of Srinagar at Sonawari well in time before the city got inundated would have saved several areas in the city from getting flooded.”
“It is imperative that such important decisions are based on thorough understanding, derived from simulated scenarios, about various aspects of regulating these hydraulic structures during floods and cannot be taken on the spur of the moment as was done in this case,” it states.
The study states that the presence of the railway line aligned through the floodplains might have made a difference in the observed inundation levels and patterns during the flooding.
“The Railway line might be responsible for the higher levels of the inundation observed in some areas of Jhelum floodplains around Srinagar city. The presence of this prominent physical barrier in the midst of the floodplains restricted the spread of the floodwaters in certain areas of the floodplain, thereby increasing the inundation levels in Srinagar city. A few of the traditionally flood-hit areas in the Jhelum floodplains did not receive the floodwaters this time probably because of the presence of the railway embankment all along the floodplain,” the study states.
However it states this needs to be further researched to quantify the impacts of the prominent railway embankment on 2014 flooding to initiate any corrective measures in future.
“Despite several warnings and clear indications of the impending flood disaster, the successive state governments have failed to design and develop the necessary flood control infrastructure in Kashmir valley that could enhance the resilience of the vulnerable sections of the society in the flood-prone areas and reduce their risk to extreme flood disaster,” it states.
Romshoo said the “dilapidated flood control infrastructure, shrinking of most of the wetlands, deforestation, urbanization of floodplains and siltation of the watercourses in Kashmir valley has degraded the ability of our environment to absorb the excess rainwater.”
“This has increased the vulnerability of the Jhelum basin to flooding which is manifest in the frequent flashfloods and water logging observed in the floodplains of Jhelum including the Central Business District of Srinagar after just a few centimeters of rainfall,” he said.
The study recommends increasing carrying capacity of Jhelum and strengthening of its embankments.
“There is an urgent need to start, on priority, a massive dredging of the flood spill channel to restore its original capacity of 17,000 cusecs and to immediately initiate the measures for the construction of the second flood channel of about 25,000 cusecs capacity from South Kashmir to Wullar to ameliorate the flood situation Srinagar in the eventuality of another large flood,” it recommends.