- Rising temperatures in the hills in Jammu and Kashmir are increasing the vulnerability of livelihoods, particularly among indigenous tribes who practice agriculture.
- Kishtwar and Ramban districts are most at risk to changes in weather patterns, while Jammu and Kathua districts are least affected.
- Some experts say that natural influences like the western disturbances or storms originating in the Mediterranean, rather than infrastructure development or human activity, are more likely to accelerate the impact of climate change.
A research team from the Department of Geography, University of Jammu, ranked 10 districts of Jammu province in Jammu and Kashmir, on their vulnerability to climate variability. They studied weather data from the India Meteorological Department unit in Srinagar, collected from weather stations over three decades, to evaluate the extent of exposure to climate variables such as rainfall and temperature, in the Jammu province.
The Vulnerability Index (VI), a measure of the exposure of a population to a hazard, was calculated to understand the vulnerabilities of districts to climate variations. The index shows that mountainous regions and remote districts are particularly vulnerable to climate variability and change.
“Based on 25 parameters including deviation in temperature, change in rainfall patterns, availability of infrastructure in each district, population of indigenous tribe, sensitivity to climate change etc., that we took into consideration, we concluded that the hilly districts of Ramban and Kishtwar had the highest vulnerability score (0.65) and (0.64) respectively and were ranked first and second as per the VI score,” said Associate Professor Mohammad Sarfaraz Asgher, a co-author of the paper, Assessing Livelihood Vulnerability to Climate Variability in the Himalayan Region: a District Level Analysis of Jammu Province, India, published in January 2023 in GeoJournal.
Jammu district had the lowest vulnerability score (0.25). Jammu and Kathua districts, however, are still prone to geo-climatic hazards like floods and heat waves. According to the paper, Kathua and Samba districts ranked nine (0.42) and eight (0.53) respectively, while Rajouri, Udhampur, and Doda districts ranked seven (0.54), six (0.57), and five (0.58). Reasi and Poonch districts came fourth (0.61) and third (0.62) respectively. These vulnerability results show that mountainous regions and remote districts in Jammu province are particularly vulnerable to climate variability and change.
The vulnerability of these districts has an impact on the local livelihoods, particularly agriculture and allied activities. Around 70% of the population is directly or indirectly involved in these sectors. The results of this study could be useful for livelihood vulnerability mitigation and planning in Jammu province, notes the study.
Climate vulnerability and livelihoods
Jammu province experiences a range of agro-climatic conditions ranging from sub-tropical in the plains to temperate in the Pir Panjal. These climatic variations make it suitable for performing varied cultivation. However, agriculture production in the province has been hampered by irregular rainfall and other pressures. The population pressure on the agriculture sector is also high, owing to the unequal dispersal of arable lands across the province with outer plains having the maximum area under agriculture while Pir Panjal has very less area under agriculture.
According to Asgher, the effects of climate variability and change have led to a decrease in crop production and yields, as well as a shift in the timing of sowing crops. Furthermore, the depletion of groundwater resources, crop infestations, and crop failures have been reported as well. Livestock farming has also been impacted by climate variability and change, as animals experience heat stress and face a shortage of crop pastures. This has resulted in a decrease in livestock, and new diseases have emerged as well. In the horticulture sector, the effects of climate change are evident in the shifting of crop locations. Crops that were once grown in plains areas are now being grown in hilly areas due to climate variability and warming.
Asgher concluded in the climate vulnerability study that apart from the population of indigenous people, dependence on agriculture for livelihood, another reason for high climate-induced livelihood vulnerability in Ramban and Kishtwar could be lack of social, human, and economic infrastructure development, such as building and maintaining facilities that support services like healthcare, education, and housing, compared to Jammu and Kathua in the plains. “High diversity in physiography and climatic conditions could also be the reasons for very high vulnerability in these districts (Ramban and Kishtwar),” said the study. These districts feature rough terrain, greater elevations, and an abundance of hilly terrain with little land that is cultivable. Similarly, the climate has altered drastically, with summers being warmer and winters becoming colder. People in these areas are less equipped to adapt, thus even small changes in the weather or climate can have a big influence on their way of life.
Global warming influences versus anthropogenic influences
The research team opined that socio-economic infrastructure planning is necessary not only in the hills of Jammu, but also in the other parts of the Himalayas. Asgher and team also found that weather stations like Katra in Reasi, Bhaderwah in Doda, and Batote and Banihal in Ramban showed a rainfall deficit in the last 30 years, whereas Jammu, Samba, and Rajouri showed an increase in rainfall.
They also noted that Katra, Bhaderwah and Jammu showed a decrease in average maximum temperature during the period 1987-2019 whereas Batote and Banihal in Ramban showed an increase during the same time. Jammu was also observed to show a positive trend in average minimum temperature, which means the average minim temperature is going lower.
Shakeel Ahmad Romshoo from the Department of Geoinformatics, University of Kashmir, says he believes that unchecked, unsustainable development at the local level has a “negligible role” to play as far as climate change in Jammu hills is concerned. Romshoo was not associated with the vulnerability study. “Hills in Jammu and Kashmir are very fragile and sensitive to climate change. For the rising temperature, change in rainfall patterns and other environmental hazards that we’ve been witnessing in the hills, local (infrastructure) development cannot be blamed. This is mainly happening due to global developments that have been impacting every country,” said Romshoo, referring to western disturbances, the extratropical storm that originates in the Mediterranean region which brings sudden winter rain to the north-western parts of the Indian sub-continent. “We don’t have enough industries here (Jammu hills). Human activity is also very limited. The limited number of vehicles in the hills can also not be blamed for the rising temperature. But with the western disturbances that are responsible for rains and snowfall in Jammu and Kashmir for a particular period of the year and other global phenomena, greenhouse gasses and other harmful pollutants enter the Union Territory and raise the temperature here considerably.”
The “unusual rise” in temperatures in the Himalayas over the last century, according to Romshoo, is causing untimely rains, recurring landslides, cloudbursts and other natural disasters in J&K. He said, “Against the global average rise in temperature of 0.8 degree Celsius in a century, the average rise for the Himalayan region is 1.2 degree Celsius, and this should worry us all.”
When asked what interventions could improve livelihood security in the Himalayas, he said, “Global bodies have to play a major role in shaping the better future of the entire world, particularly of the developing nations. From the upcoming global environmental events like United Nations Conference on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP 28), the global leaders have to ponder on cutting the emissions rate considerably and plan collectively to ensure minimum damage to the environment during the course of development.”
Locally, Romshoo said, the Union as well as the UT Government can initiate various measures like encouraging use of public transport, switch to renewable energy like wind and solar, and launching afforestation drives to help degraded habitats recover.
Read more: Warmer winters in Kashmir are leading to early flowering of the gul toor
Editor’s note: The story was updated on April 24, 2023, to correct a factual error.
Banner image: Women in Jammu walk uphill to fetch water. Photo by Alok Pathania.