Jammu And Kashmir Has Had A Long History Of Flooding

9 September 2014
Venkat Ananth

New Delhi: Floods in Jammu and Kashmir aren't exactly an uncommon phenomenon, if history and indeed its geography is to be believed. Starting last week, the state has seen an unprecedented amount of rainfall, resulting in its worst floods since 1959. Floods in the state are invariably linked to the Jhelum River and its history of crossing the danger mark, its streams and rivulets overflowing and thereby inundating the 'Valley' (south Kashmir) in the process. While the scale of devastation caused by these floods is nothing short of massive, with over 200 people having lost their lives so far, the Valley, along with the Jammu region has, over time witnessed floods occurring at regular intervals. According to Sir Walter Roper Lawrence in his book, The Valley of Kashmir (1895), 'Many disastrous floods are noticed in vernacular histories, but the greatest was the terrible inundation which followed the slipping of the Khadanyar mountains below Baramula in AD 879. The channel of the Jhelum river was blocked and a large part of the valley was submerged.' The other major flood to affect Kashmir happened in 1841, which Lawrence notes, 'caused much damage to life and property.' However, the first flood of devastating proportions to hit the state came half a century later in 1893, when 52 hours of continuous and warm rainfall, beginning 18 July, caused what Lawrence describes as 'a great calamity'. In 1893, he notes, 'the flood cost the state Rs.64,804 in land revenue alone, 25,426 acres of crops were submerged, 2,225 houses were wrecked and 329 cattle killed.' In the aftermath of the 1893 floods, Lawrence noted an interesting practice, where he wrote, 'Marvellous tales were told of the efficacy of the flags of saints which had been set up to arrest the floods, and people believe that the rice fields of Tulamula and the bridge of Sumbal were saved by the presence of these flags, which were taken from the shrines as a last resort'. The Valley also recorded major floods at the turn of the century, with the most devastating one coming 10 years after the 1893 disaster. The floods, which in the day were classified as the 'greatest flood ever known', came down the Valley and Srinagar on 23 July 1903, converting the city into 'a whole lake'. According to Saligram Bhatt in his 2004-book Kashmir Ecology and Environment: New Concerns and Strategies, the water level in the 1903 floods were higher by 3 points as compared to the one that had hit the state a decade earlier. Bhatt wrote, '7,000 dwellings went down in the neighbourhood of the city, including 773 on the Dal Lake.' For the next quarter of a century, the Valley did not record major floods in the valley, largely thanks to lessons learnt and reparative measures which were put in place. However, in 1929, the Valley grappled with yet another major flood, which mainly affected parts of what is today Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Jammu & Kashmir hit by devastating floods While the Valley stayed relatively flood-free for the following two decades, immediately after independence, Kashmir was hit by a flood in 1948. Two years later, in September 1950, another major flood hit the state, with nearly 100 people losing their lives. The flood was, rather unsurprisingly, caused by the Jhelum's overflow. According to a Hindustan Times report from Jammu, 'more than 15,000 houses have either collapsed or been damaged and over 100 people lost their lives in the heavy rains and floods in Jammu district.' The then Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, donated a sum of Rs.24,000 for the relief of flood victims, while the Maharani donated Rs.10,000. In August-September of 1957, another major flood was recorded in Jammu and Kashmir, with the Valley feeling its devastating impact. The floods almost submerged the entire valley. In a Hindustan Times dispatch from Jammu (Sep 2), the then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad was quoted as saying that, 'the floods recorded in Jammu and Kashmir were the highest ever recorded in the state, and that the damage caused by them was colossal.' Two years later, in July 1959, the state witnessed yet another massive 'glacial' flood, perhaps its worst ever at the time, when four days of incessant rains lashed the valley and Srinagar, triggering the Jhelum. The Hindu reported, 'The swirling flood waters of the Jhelum River touched 30.25 feet on 5 July, over six points above the danger level.' The rainfall that lashed the state was so severe that then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was enroute to a survey of the damage caused by the floods, had to return to Delhi less than five hours after take-off from Palam. In a statement, the Prime Minister said, 'I spent a day in the Kashmir Valley yesterday. There can be no doubt about the calamity that has descended upon the Jammu and Kashmir state because of these floods and the tremendous damage they have done. What is distressing is that many of the development works which have been built up in recent years have been washed away and we have to start anew. Both the state and the central government will give help.' While the state did witness floods thereafter in the following three decades, the one in 1992 was unprecedented in terms of its fury. Recording its heaviest rainfall since 1959, the 1992 floods were most devastating, purely in terms of casualties. According to newspaper reports from 1992, over 200 people lost their lives and the floods left over 60,000 people marooned in several north-western border districts. However, it is also worth noting that parts of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir bore the brunt of these floods, with over 2,000 deaths reported in that part. While flash floods in the region, mainly triggered by a combination of heavy rainfall and landslides are common, the state has also witnessed massive floods caused by a cloudburst in the Leh-Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. The cloudburst, which occurred on 6 August 2010, triggered flash floods in the area after a night of heavy downpour. While it only lasted for half an hour, the devastation caused by the cloudburst was enormous. It destroyed many buildings in the city of Leh, including hospitals and several communication lines that connected it with the rest of the state, and indeed the country. Over 250 people were reported dead in the floods triggered by the cloudburst.