AJ & K’s Vulnerability to Climate Change Threats and Generalized Policy Measures

Climate Change Impacts – AJ & K

The important climate change threats to AJ&K are as follows:

Weather, Water Resource and Glacier Impacts

  • The increase temperature levels (average, minimum and maximum) is expected to lead to a small but fundamental shift in weather patterns within AJ&K, with increasing risks of pre – and post-monsoon severe thunder and wind storms, summer heat waves and extended summer season, shorter autumn and spring seasons, increased water evaporation losses from crops and land cover, unreliable rainfall patterns and increased rainfall droughts and river low flows.
  • The increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events, and northward shift of the monsoon rainfall pattern, will result in a small but fundamental shift in hill-slope water movement and river flow patterns (hydrology) within AJ&K, this is expected to lead to more frequent and larger floods, higher risk of glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs), land-sliding and avalanches due to extreme rains.
  • The rise in temperature and changed rainfall patterns will lead to fundamental shift in the dynamics of glaciers, with complex impacts on AJ&K river flows (hydrology), and water supply for local AJ&K and downstream Punjab water users, and for community health and livelihoods, hydro-power, fisheries and irrigated food production.
  • The unreliable rains and increased winter and summer dry-spell cycles outside of the monsoon, on one hand, could decrease snow input and lead to an accelerated shrinkage of glaciers, which will in the long run reduce the continuous flow of water in rivers and nallahs / streams from spring, summer and autumn ice melt.
  • This increased spring and summer temperatures, and more significantly the warm monsoon rains falling for the first time upon the northern glaciers, will lead to an accelerated summer and monsoon ice-melt, ice slips / avalanches and retreat of the glaciers, which in the short to medium term may increase amount of water flow to local and downstream users, yet in the long term will add to glacial retreat and a reduction of the glacier water resource to feed the spring and summer, dry season, flow of AJ&K and downstream Punjab.
  • In cooler northern and high altitude areas, climate change appears to be also impacting on the snow patterns, with the snow maxima is shifting from December and January to February, and some snowfall even October-November, and after a dry-spell remaining in April. The overall result is that the snow residency period is shrinking. Furthermore, Global warming is the prime factor for the accelerated glacial melt and retreat, giving birth to hazardous glacial lakes in the Himalayas which are geologically young and fragile and are vulnerable to even insignificant changes in the climatic system. These factors are resulting in shrinkage of glaciers, and increased threats of disasters like glacier lake outburst floods, avalanches and mud flow and floods to downstream areas.

Land Degradation Impact upon Catchment Function

  • Points 1 and 2 outline the projected direct climate change impacts upon AJ&K hill-slope water movement and resulting river flow hydrology (i.e. increased flood risk in rainy seasons and increased low flows during dry periods), these trends will be made worse if the increased frequency and intensity of storms are allowed to lead to accelerated land degradation (i.e. land degradation made worse above that resulting from current land use practices). More frequent and intense rainfall storms, when coupled with poor vegetation ground cover (i.e. due to forest loss, over-grazing, fire, or poor cropland and forest plantation management), will lead to increased rain-drop erosion, sun exposure and degradation of soil surfaces on the hill-slopes, this leads in short to medium term (1 to 5 years) to a trend of loss in surface soil infiltration, increased water overland flow, accelerated erosion and decreased water infiltration to sub-soils and groundwater aquifers, which leads in the medium to long term (10 to 20 years) to increased frequency and size of river flood peaks, decreased river base-flows overall and increased dry season low flows (i.e. land degradation impact on river flow hydrology). The negative trends of direct climate change impact on river flows, erosion and sediment transport, are made much worse by the added effect of land degradation induced by increased storms and rainfall intensity.

Reduced River Flow and Hydrologic Drought Impacts

  • Climate changes above, and climate change accelerated land degradation, most fundamentally deteriorate water quantity in the inland fresh waters, which disturbs the continuous flow of water in rivers (base-flow) which ultimately affects the water, energy, food and economic security of both AJ&K local and downstream Punjab governments, communities and businesses.
  • Reduced river flows due to climate change induced drought and unreliable rains, if extreme and prolonged, may kill livestock, lead to crop failure, negatively affect fish populations and drinking and irrigation water supplies, which results in reduction of arable lands, which negatively affects food production and nutritional availability in the crops that ultimately reduces food and economic security, and risk affecting community health.

Increased Flood Impacts

  • Floods may kill livestock, physically damage crops, farm equipment, after the floods, most commonly, there is an increase in incidence of insect pests and disease attack, land-sliding and excessive soil erosion which results in reduction of arable lands, which negatively affects food production, food quality and nutritional availability in the crops that ultimately reduces food security and economic security;
  • Floods and increased frequency of extreme weather events may result in the direct impact of loss of life, property, physical infrastructure, including buildings, roads, dams, water pipes, electricity transmission adding pressure on services and utilities, communication, sewerage and drainage systems, micro and small hydro-power plants, tourism assets, including the increased run-off wash away or erosion of foundations of these structures, plus reduced landscape aesthetics and increased incidence of vector-borne diseases. These impacts all leading to disruption of communication, human settlements, migration and ultimately negatively affecting energy security and tourists’ arrival in the area.
  • The above physical and infrastructure impacts of increased floods, will lead most commonly, to the secondary impact that local community, both men and women, will have to migrate from flood-affected areas, until the area is clear from flood water. The effect of disasters and extreme weather events is most often more pronounced upon women and children. The need for forced migration will dis-proportionally impact upon women who often avoid using communal shelters due to cultural constraints. When coupled with unequal access to resources and to decision-making processes, limited mobility and acceptable refuge places, women particularly in rural areas are in a position where they are disproportionately affected by climate change.

Increased Sediment Transport and Reduced Water Quality Impacts

  • Climate changes, with increased rainfall intensity, floods and sediment and pollutant transport, coupled with extended dry season periods of river low flows, will deteriorate water quality in inland fresh-waters and river, which ultimately affects water, food and economic security, as linked to negative impacts on drinking and irrigation water supplies, fish populations and dams and other water infrastructure.
  • Climate change induced floods, may also mobilize and transport solid waste which is commonly dumped around river and stream banks, to dump it again and allow it to accumulate and deteriorate water quality at other places downstream.
  • Abrupt, erratic and unreliable rains, plus climate change-induced and current land degradation, will result in increased runoff and soil erosion reducing land availability for crops and land productivity.
  • Increased dilatation of dams, water infrastructure and drinking water intakes, will result due to climate change accelerated soil erosion and sediment transport, coupled with the trends of vegetative cover loss and land degradation in watershed areas.

Weather and Temperature Impacts

  • In cooler areas, lesser chilling, late frosts and rains in winter and spring may interrupt the flowering and pollination process, causing reduced production of fruit trees like apple. Higher temperatures in July and incessant rains may provide a humid atmosphere ideal for crop diseases and floods may destroy fruit trees and river-side crops.
  • Climate change induced temperature rise may result in enhanced heat and water-stress conditions, reducing the number of reliable crop growing days, and introducing higher inter-annual unpredictability in precipitation, particularly in warmer areas of AJ&K. This will lead to reduced agricultural, fodder and forest crops productivity, and possible losses to crop biodiversity and varieties. The women, again, will be dis-proportionally impacted because they have to travel longer distances to collect water and fodder.
  • Climate change will make the seasons unreliable, which will disturb the occurrence time, severity and type of epidemics in human beings and livestock (shifts in human and livestock epidemiology), so it will becomes more difficult to assess the potential disease occurrence and conduct vaccination and treatment in the right season. Increased health risks may result due to an increase in solar radiation, or climate and hydrology regime shifts may lead to increased incidence of vector and water-borne, respiratory and skin diseases. Any increase in prevalence of diseases will most likely increase the reliance on the women’s care-giving role for family and community members who are ill.
  • Extreme and unreliable weather events, and resulting reductions in production of agriculture, livestock or from natural resources, will result in secondary negative impact upon manufacturing, cottage industries, wholesale, retail and trade sectors which rely on outputs from these sectors. This, in turn, will negatively affect loan recovery and increase risks for insurance industry, and lead to high claim ratios and lower uptake of insurance cover, impacting in turn on the local and national insurance and finance sectors.
  • At higher altitudes and in the cooler climates, the areas receiving climate change induced heavier snowfall, may lose the time required for growing the maize crop and lead to a contraction of the maize crop area. Alternatively, a decrease in the amount of snowfall and increase in temperature, may allow a longer time period for growing crops like maize and potato which previously did not occur. This may also result a decrease of the need for fuel-wood collection in the winter season, due to the increased temperature in the area, and due to the availability of maize and potato as a food source in such areas. This will have positive impact in decreasing the workload of women.
  • Climate change may introduce new limitations to the design and adequacy of housing and human settlements, particularly those in lower lying areas which will be both more heat and flood affected.

Ecological and Associated Impacts

  • Degradation of vegetation may result in watersheds, forest, rangeland and other lands as a direct (e.g. increased temperature and ecological shift) or secondary (i.e. changed land use pressures) due to climate change. In this case, the women in the community who have responsibility to collect fuel-wood, grasses, graze livestock and collect drinking water, may become dis-proportionally more vulnerable to injuries from carrying heavy loads over long distances.
  • A decrease in the forest cover may result due to increase in natural disasters, soil erosion and extreme weather events, plus there may be a long term natural migration (altitude shift) of plant species. The tree-line is already shifting, and there is an increased incidence of invasive species and pests in the forest areas. Scrub trees are now already encroaching in Chir-pine areas. Chir-pine trees are now found in the higher altitude areas previously known for trees like Blue-pine. Blue-pine trees are found to be already encroaching in areas for Silver fir. Deodar is moving towards the sub-alpine areas. The incidence of forest fire is already increasing in the sub-tropical Chir pine zone and forests in southern districts of AJ&K.
  • There may be changes in wetlands and fisheries systems, due to changes in rainfall and river flow regimes, rising temperatures and increased hazards such as floods and extended period of low flow.
  • Plant species like hazelnut (Corylus ); Bhoj patar (Betula utilis); Himalayan yew (Taxus baccata); Maple (Acer accuminatum; & Acer caesium); Pasherr (Parratiopsis jacquemontiana); Oak (Quercus ilex); and Tarambba (Fagopyrum esculentum) are already becoming endangered, due to the synergistic effects of climate change and habitat fragmentation.
  • Degradation of range-lands and decreasing plant biodiversity may result in a changed pattern or even increased migration of pastorals and possibly also other communities, especially women, who are dependent on natural resources due to the climate change temperature, rainfall and ecological shifts and the impacts on range-land, forest, scrub-land, crop and fodder production patterns.

The above list of potential threats may lead to major survival concerns for the AJ&K, particularly in relation to its water security, food security and energy security, and ultimately affecting economic security. To reduce such climate change impacts the generalized policy measures are as follows.

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