MUZAFFARABAD: Apart from adverse impact to be caused by India’s Kishanganga dam project on Pakistan’s irrigation system and energy sector schemes, conservationists are worried about its devastating effects on biodiversity and ecosystem in Neelum Valley.
“The volume of water in the part of river on the India-held side is 10 times higher than that in Azad Jammu and Kashmir territory. Therefore, its diversion will wreck havoc on the environment of the valley,” said Sardar Javaid Ayub, the head of the AJK wildlife and fisheries department, on Wednesday. The problem would aggravate during winter, he added.
Mr Ayub spoke to Dawn a day after India agreed to re-examine objections raised by Pakistan over the design of Kishanganga dam on the concluding day of talks held in Lahore. The Indian team pledged to resume negotiation after two months, with a reply to the Pakistani objections.
He said that temperatures in the upper reaches of the river fell to sub-zero in winter and in case of diversion, a 20-25km stretch of the river would be frozen and all aquatic life, micro and macro organisms would become extinct.
Brown trout, a species of economic importance, and Triplophysa Kashmiriensis, another important fish, are found in the river. “When the water is frozen or regularly drawn away, it will affect the side channels serving as breeding and nursing grounds for the fish. Following reduced water flow, both varieties will be wiped out, something not just local but also of global concern,” he said.
Mr Ayub said that the diversion would also cause devastating effect on riparian vegetation, which was also a vital area of concern for conservationists.
The Musk Deer National Park was located in the upper area of Neelum Valley and the threatened species chiefly fed on birches and shrubs growing along the banks of the river, he said.
In addition to protecting the water, riparian vegetation also provides several benefits to wildlife, such as absorption of polluted runoff.
The official said that wildlife restoration efforts depended on the presence of a healthy terrestrial ecosystem surrounding the upper part of the river.
He expressed the fear that an area of 25-30 kilometres in length and two metres in width on both sides of the river would be irreversibly affected in case of withdrawal of water, causing an adverse impact on livelihood resources of local communities and wild flora and fauna. The loss of significant amounts of plants and other green species would lead to soil erosion and a generally unstable land base, he added.
He said wild flowers and blossoming in Neelum Valley promoted pollination because riparian vegetation was abode of pollinating insects. The decreased flow of water would cause decline in pollination and pollinators, subsequently affecting crops in the area.
Neelum Valley was also home to some important herbs and ferns and many water-loving trees, he said. With the change in watercourse many medicinal plants will be eradicated.
He said that multilateral environmental laws – such as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Kyoto Protocol to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Ramsar Convention on Wetlands – called for preserving biodiversity and ecosystem and equitable sharing of benefits from genetic resources. “Being a signatory to the treaties and conventions, India should honour the obligations stipulated therein.”
Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2014