In an unprecedented trend, the pleasant valley of Kashmir has been reeling under an intense heatwave, with its summer capital, Srinagar, recording the hottest daytime temperature since 1891, the founding year of its weather observatory. A maximum temperature of 34.2°C has been recorded in Srinagar, making it its "hottest September day," breaking a 53-year record of 33.8°C on September 1, 1970.
"While June and July recorded good rains, August-September has been much hotter, resulting in rainfall deficit," said Sonam Lotus, Director, Met Centre Srinagar.
Qazigund, known as the Gateway Of Kashmir, also witnessed an all-time temperature rise at 33.2°C, its highest since 1956.
Weather officials have cited prolonged dry spells and less moisture as the prime cause for the heatwave. However, Lotus also underlined other causes of sweltering temperatures besides climate change. "Factors such as urbanisation or construction activities also play a part; however, they have a minimal impact. They don't affect the temperature changes significantly and have gradual consequences," he said.
Altaf Chapri, who runs Qayaam Gah in Kashmir's Zabarwan Hills, believes that every hotelier must undertake critical responsible tourism measures to ensure their buildings have a minimised ecological impact. "Construction should be undertaken (by hoteliers) after careful consideration of the natural surroundings and the potential environmental impact," he said.
Emphasising that local and natural materials should be used, Chapri's low-impact properties have been made by local artisans with expertise in traditional skills and working methods. "We value traditional skills, working methods, and the families that depend on these skills. These policies create an end-product that educates the tourists about the place's cultural heritage," he added. In line with responsible tourism practices, these low-impact cottages and public buildings have been made of reclaimed wood, tiles and locally available materials.
Saying that the heatwave is unusual this time, GM Dug of Kashmir's Hotel Pine Grove blamed the rise in vehicles for environmental deterioration. "Owing to lousy schemes, the number of vehicles has grown in the Valley, resulting in pollution. Government should ensure rationality in vehicle buying capacity to balance the damage," said Dug.
Reports suggest a robust rise in auto sales in Kashmir, with 24,016 new registrations of private cars between 2022 and March 2023. Among districts, Srinagar registered the highest number of cars at 7,686.
Another report suggests that the building sector contributes up to 30 per cent of global annual greenhouse gas emissions. While other factors are responsible for climate change, extracting natural resources as building materials leads to environmental degradation and global warming. Moreover, buildings are the largest energy consumers and greenhouse gas emitters in developed and developing countries.
The heatwave has multiple negative effects, added Lotus. "It adversely affects human health and the availability of natural resources like drinking water. The water level has also receded in the Jhelum River, causing distress among houseboat owners," he said. Multiple reports suggest that water levels in the Jhelum River and its tributaries have receded, causing concern among locals, especially farmers.
"Moreover, there is also an agricultural impact due to the lack of rain. By this time, apples should turn red, but that is not the case this year," said Lotus.
In addition, the Indian Meteorological Department has predicted that the hot and dry weather will likely prevail across the Valley for another 4-5 days, with authorities advising tourists and locals to take necessary precautions, such as staying hydrated and drinking fluids to avoid any health ramifications.
Meanwhile, Raja Yakoob, Director of Kashmir Tourism, cited the change in climate cycles for the ongoing heatwave in the Valley. "There are variations in climate change every 40-50 years. It is a natural phenomenon." He also referred to climate patterns El Nino and La Nina for affecting weather patterns worldwide, adding that these climatic conditions break the normal weather cycle. Scientists have described these phenomena as the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which can have a global effect on weather, wildfires, ecosystems and economies.
Factors like excessive construction activities have also been blamed for environmental degradation, mainly contributing to global warming. "As far as construction activities are concerned, they are done in line with the building codes. The government is stringent and ensures no illegal construction," said Yakoob.
Ishita Khanna, who runs Ecosphere, an eco-friendly travel venture in Himachal Pradesh's Spiti, said that climate change and its aftereffects, such as heatwaves, are rooted in global malpractices. "We cannot just oversimplify it, saying construction activities are responsible for climate change. Factors like global warming and greenhouse emissions are global phenomena; hence, the problem of climate change must be dealt with a holistic approach, factoring in all responsible stakeholders.
Saying that Spiti is also experiencing a heatwave, Khanna underlined that construction activities have a small role to play. "Local factors do affect our environment. We must ensure to travel sustainably and construct thoughtfully; however, the heatwave issue is a global domain," she added.