New Delhi: On behalf of the American people, Chargé d’Affaires Ambassador Kathleen Stephens today extended her deepest sympathies to the people of Jammu and Kashmir who have been affected by the recent flooding, especially the hundreds of families who have lost loved ones.
In coordination with central and state authorities, Ambassador Stephens announced that the United States intends to provide $250,000 to select nongovernmental organizations through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in response to the needs of the people affected by the disaster. The organizations, which include Save the Children India, Care India, and Plan India, will use these funds to provide emergency relief, including temporary shelter and non-food relief supplies, to thousands of families in remote villages severely affected by the floods. Ambassador Stephens reiterated the United States’ commitment to help those affected by the floods.
Mumbai University donates 25 Lakh
The University of Mumbai today donated an amount of Rs.25 lakh to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund for the rehabilitation of the victims of the devastating floods in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Vice Chancellor of the University Dr Rajan Welukar met the State Governor and Chancellor of the University Ch Vidyasagar Rao at Raj Bhavan, Mumbai and presented a cheque of Rs.25 lakh addressed to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund for the disaster in Jammu & Kashmir. Appreciating the gesture of the University, the Governor forwarded the University’s cheque to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday itself.
BNHS highlights the need for Wetland Conservation Act
The recent tragedy in Kashmir Valley is being increasingly looked at as a man-made disaster, aggravated by reckless “developmental” activities with no regard for nature conservation. BNHS-India studies in the valley over the years reveal that there has been a severe loss of wetland habitat for various commercial activities. Hence, BNHS feels that the recent floods can be clearly termed as an “Ecological Disaster” and highlights the urgency to enact Wetland (Conservation) Act, on the pattern of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
Man-made Ecological Disaster
It is obvious from field studies that there has been a massive loss of wetlands in the Kashmir valley over the years. For instance, the famed Dal Lake in Srinagar has seen numerous reclamations all along its periphery in the marshy areas. This has drastically reduced the lake area to just about 1,200 hectares, which is almost half of its earlier spread. The vast expanse of Wular Lake and associated marshes – an Important Bird Area (IBA) - is another case in point. Once spread across 20,200 hectares, it now remains restricted to a mere 2,400 hectares. In the last 30 years, nearly 50% of the wetlands in the Kashmir Valley have been encroached upon or severely damaged.
Commenting on the recent floods, Dr Asad Rahmani, Director, BNHS, said, “This can be termed as an Ecological Disaster. The disastrous damage caused to life and property could have been minimized if the large number of wetlands that once existed in the Valley, had been preserved. Wetlands act as a sponge that retains excess water. Wular Lake is a classical example”. Even the British and former Maharajas of Kashmir used to consider Wular as a buffer for the floods, where excess water can be absorbed.
Wrong policies on the part of successive governments in the state have contributed to the wetland loss. For example, encroachment upon the shallow portions of the wetland by the forest department for plantation of Willow trees has significantly reduced the size of Wular Lake over the years. Kashmir Valley has one narrow opening towards the west for the water from the catchment areas to get drained down the Jhelum River. From all other sides, it is encircled by high mountains.
Need for Wetland Conservation Act
During the reign of the Maharajas of Kashmir, a well functioning water drainage system that was synchronous with the natural topography of the region was in place. The same lay neglected in the recent decades. The myriad lakes and wetlands of the valley, which acted as sponge, were also well preserved in the past. Considering the importance of wetlands, not just in Jammu and Kashmir, but across India, Dr Rahmani recommends the passing of a Wetland (Conservation) Act on the lines of the Forest (Conservation) Act.
Protection of wetlands will not only help in flood control, but will also help in recharging the ground water levels across the country and thus ensure better food security by way of increased water availability. Although the Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority exists at present, it has been proving ineffective in saving the wetlands. Dr Rahmani added that it is also important not to classify wetlands as wastelands, as wetlands play an important biological, cultural, economical, aesthetic and spiritual role.
Sanjay Trivedi is honorary editor of Asia Times. He is senior Indian Journalist having vast experience of 25 years. He worked in Janmabhoomi, Vyapar, Divya Bhaskar etc. newspapers and TV9 Channel as well as www.news4education.com. He is serving as Media Officer in Gujarat Technological University, the university which controlling 440 colleges of Engineering, Management, Pharmacy & Architecture colleges in Gujarat.