Wetlands in Kashmir Dying for Attention

 Bisma Yousuf & Aqib Ul Ahad Wani ✉

Kashmir, nestled in the Himalayas, boasts a diverse array of wetlands that hold significant international recognition and importance. These wetlands serve as crucial habitats for migratory birds and play a vital role in bolstering the economic foundation of the Union Territory of Kashmir.

Representaive picture

Wetlands play a crucial role in providing livelihoods, particularly for rural communities. In Kashmir, these wetlands offer significant socio-economic support to the local population, sustaining their way of life. They are essential for rural livelihoods in developing nations and are highly esteemed across various cultures. Additionally, these wetlands contribute to tourism, creating employment opportunities for many individuals, thereby serving as a vital source of livelihood.

Moreover, these wetlands are essential habitats for numerous migratory bird species that journey to Kashmir. The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is home to 3651 wetlands, varying in size, spread across 22 districts. On August 14, 2022, on the eve of India's 75th Independence Day, the Union Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav announced the addition of 11 new wetlands to the Ramsar Site list, including two from Kashmir: the Shalbugh Wetland in Central Kashmir District Ganderbal and Haigam in Baramulla.

It is worth noting that two water bodies from Kashmir, namely Hokersar and Wular Lake, were already included in the list of Ramsar Sites. In the Jammu division, Surinsar-Mansar was also part of the list, making a total of five Ramsar Sites from the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The addition of two more wetlands to the Ramsar Sites list raised hopes for a significant boost in conservation efforts, with increased focus on preserving and safeguarding these sites for future prosperity. However, despite these additions, there has been a lack of special attention towards the Shallabugh Wetland in Ganderbal, even after its inclusion in the Ramsar Sites list.

The gradual reduction in the wetland's size, primarily due to encroachment, has had adverse effects on the arrival of migratory birds and has heightened the risk of flooding. Each year, numerous migratory birds, including Geese, Bar Geese, White Heeled Duck, and various others, visit Shallabugh from distant locations like Siberia, Central Asia, Northern Europe, Ladakh, and China. These flying visitors typically begin arriving in the Kashmir valley from the first week of November, with outward migration expected from March to mid-April.

While wetlands offer a multitude of benefits, they have been extensively drained, filled, and repurposed worldwide. The global landscape has undergone significant changes since 1990, resulting in the loss of approximately 50% of wetlands. In India, nearly one-third of natural wetlands have vanished over the past three decades. As these wetlands degrade, the invaluable benefits they offer are eroded, impacting various species and the livelihoods of communities entirely reliant on these ecosystems. Despite being integral parts of the biosphere, wetlands in Kashmir are facing significant shrinkage due to neglect from authorities.

A large portion of wetlands in Kashmir is critically endangered and at the brink of extinction. This decline is primarily attributed to a lack of environmental education and adherence to laws by planners who prioritize developmental projects over wetland preservation. In September 2022, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh requested a comprehensive report from the government on the status of seven wetlands in the region; regrettably, no such report has been submitted to date.

It is imperative for the educated populace to recognize that wetlands are not wastelands but vital biodiversity hotspots that support diverse flora and fauna. Preserving these ecosystems is crucial for future generations and requires immediate attention and action.

(The authors are Environmentalists and are currently practising  in Jammu Kashmir & Ladakh High Court as Advocates). 

Disclaimer: Views expressed are exclusively their own.

Feedback:  Bismayousuf111@gmail.com, advocateaquib08@gmail.com)

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