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Environmental cost of conflict in Kashmir

by Kashmir Times, 27 February 2009

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Kashmir Times, 27 February 2009

Editorial: Environmental cost of conflict

Shrinking agricultural space, vandalism of forests

A study by the scientific journal ’Conservation Biology’ has raised alarm bells with its findings that 80 percent of the world’s major armed conflicts from 1950-2000 have occurred or are occurring in the most biologically diverse and threatened places on the earth. The study points out 34 bio-diverse hotspots in the world and one among them is the Himalayan region with its multiple conflicts - Afghanistan, Kashmir, Tibet and North-East India. The study has rightly pointed out the co-relation between conflicts and the environmental threat to the regions of conflict, something which should not come as a surprise since closer home one has seen visible signs of such environmental devastation, accelerated in the last two decades of the Kashmir turmoil. The conflict has wrecked havoc on the forests and water resources of Jammu and Kashmir. Though there may be other reasons for the threat to the environmental degradation of the Himalayan region including Kashmir, the two decade long conflict has only doubled up the speed of destruction. The highly militarised space has not only usurped agricultural lands and residential areas, it has also taken a heavy toll of the forests. While for years, the militants have used the dense forests as a cover, the security forces have been accused of clearing vast tracts of land including forest area, often in the name of security concerns, which has also lead to corruption within the ranks of forces, encouraging a nexus between smugglers, forest officials and also often the personnel of security forces operating in the state. The massive fencing of the borders in recent years and mining of vast tracts of land has also cost the environment dearly, taking a heavy toll also of the wildlife and often causing man-animal conflicts. The forests are shrinking and consequently wild beasts are forced to move closer to the residential areas, posing a unique conflict of its kind.

The unchecked pollution and depletion of water resources is equally a cause for concern. The already overburdened lakes of the state are further being contaminated by enormous presence of security forces inhabiting areas close to it. The famous lakes of Kashmir Valley have already been turned into vast dustbins and the acute militarization has only further multiplied the devastation. The melting glaciers have already been in debate for a long time, including the one at the world’s highest and iciest battleground at Siachen. The India-Pakistan conflict has greatly disturbed the flora and fauna of the region since the mid-eighties when the icy heights were first militarized. Besides, the huge pressure of the soldiers on both sides is fast reducing this glacier, which is a major source of water of the Indus river to just a trickle at many places. Such glaring evidences of destruction and vandalism of the environment need to be taken up more seriously. The cost of each conflict, especially in regions of immense bio-diversity, is too immense to be ignored. The conflicts are causing the human kind, not just in terms of economic losses and loss of precious human lives or the psychological impact. The irreparable loss to the environment is also something to reckon with because it has a long term adverse effect on the geography, sociology and health of the humans in the ultimate analysis. The depleting water resources and the forest cover, which are crucial to life are a collective inheritance of humankind and so there is dire immediacy to resolve disputes that are taking a heavy toll of this wealth.