Jhelum River reaches record-low levels, triggering drinking water crisis in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, SEP 21: As the Jhelum River in the Kashmir Valley grapples with record-low water levels; the water supply schemes that rely on this vital source are facing a severe shortage, leading to a drinking water crisis that has affected numerous areas in the region.

Officials from the Irrigation and Flood Control Department have reported that the water level of the Jhelum has plummeted to its lowest point in the last 30 years this September. On September 14, a startling measurement of 0.09 was recorded at the Sangam gauge, marking the lowest level in 70 years.

“The primary reason behind the decrease in water level is a drop in precipitation,” stated one official. This stark reality underscores the alarming rainfall deficiency, with only 20mm of precipitation received, leaving a staggering 55mm deficit compared to the average September rainfall of 75mm.

In addition to the rainfall shortage, temperatures in the region have surged, rising 5 degrees Celsius above normal. This heatwave has caused extensive damage to crops, compounding the challenges faced by the local population.

“The Valley has been grappling with an unrelenting heatwave this September, experiencing the second-highest maximum temperature on September 12th ever recorded in September since 1891 when the local weather observatory was established,” explained a meteorological official.

The decline in water levels has rendered all water supply schemes relying on the Jhelum nonfunctional, resulting in a severe water supply shortage in many areas of the Valley. The worst-hit areas are those falling within the stretch from Sangam to Bandipora, where the drop in water level has caused a drinking water crisis.

For example, numerous areas within Baramulla, including the main town, Khujbagh, Jetty, Sherwani colony, Singabgh, and Monga colony, are grappling with severe water scarcity, leaving a significant portion of the population without access to safe drinking water.

“We are enduring immense difficulties in accessing drinking water. It has become a daily struggle even to wash or bathe, and it seems that the administration is not taking our concerns seriously,” expressed one resident.

Acknowledging the impact of the drop in water level, a senior Engineer, Jal Shakti Department, informed that they have implemented measures to minimize the crisis’s impact.

“Since the water level is low, leaving the pumps with almost nothing to uplift, we have made adjustments to the riverbed to ensure water flow to the pumps, which is then lifted for distribution,” he explained, adding that the areas at the tail end of the river are particularly affected.

Officials urged people to use water judiciously and mentioned that water tankers are available for the worst-affected areas. He also advised against using drinking water for kitchen gardens.

The drop in water level has also affected agriculture, rendering nearly 70 percent of irrigation pumps on the Jhelum non-functional. This has had a significant impact on crops like apples, which require water before harvest to attain an appropriate size and shape. The current situation has highlighted the urgent need for water resource management and proactive measures to address the challenges posed by changing weather patterns and declining water levels in the region.

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