Mehr un Nisa
International humanitarian law unequivocally prohibits the excessive and disproportionate damage to the environment during warfare and armed interventions. Key treaties, including the Hague Regulations, Fourth Geneva Convention, Protocol I, and the 1977 Convention on the Prohibition of Military and Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, underscore the significance of safeguarding the environment amidst conflicts.
Precedents set by UN Security Council Resolution 687 (1991) and Article 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002) declare intentional infliction of severe and widespread environmental damage as war crimes. Even during extended military presence, the controlling forces are obliged to protect civilian resources, while the affected population retains permanent sovereignty over its natural wealth and resources, as mandated by UN General Assembly Resolution 305 (1972).
Militarization has devastating consequences on the environment, severely impacting ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources. The unrestrained use of weaponry and military infrastructure causes irreparable damage to delicate landscapes, while loss of habitats, deforestation, and pollution further exacerbate environmental vulnerabilities. Human actions and socio-economic disparities play a crucial role in determining the severity of natural disasters, with marginalized communities disproportionately affected due to their vulnerability and lack of resources.
The breathtaking landscapes of Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir hide a troubling reality – the long-standing military presence of ecologically fragile areas. The presence of armed forces, with permanent installations and militarized infrastructure constructed in delicate ecosystems has led to expropriation, illegal encroachment, and extensive weaponization of natural areas, including wetlands, forests, glaciers, mountains, hills, paddy fields, streambeds, permafrost areas and water bodies. This has resulted in severe ecological degradation like deforestation, soil erosion, and pollution, leading to reduced biodiversity, water scarcity, compromised flood absorption capacity and heightened flood risks during heavy rainfall.
In the Kashmiri Himalayan region, there are 147 glaciers, but the relentless impact of global warming has caused their loss and fragmentation. Kolahoi, the largest glacier in Jammu and Kashmir is also known as the ‘Goddess of Light,’ has also shrunk from 13.57 square kilometers to 10.69 square kilometers, receding at a staggering rate of 73.26 meters per year due to militarized climate change. Smaller glaciers are particularly vulnerable to climate change due to their lower elevation and accumulation area. Thajiwas, Drang-Drujng, Machoi, and Shafat are among the glaciers that have been severely impacted by climate change, melting at alarming rates. Sadly, militarized climate change has expedited glacier melting, leading to water reserve depletion and posing environmental threats.
The Siachen Glacier, the world’s second-largest in Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir, has experienced a substantial and catastrophic decline, shrinking to half its former size, tragically transforming into the “world’s highest garbage dump”. Over the years, the glacier’s serenity has been marred by the accumulation of over 10,000 tons of toxic waste and pollution resulting from militarization activities, as the area is intensely militarized, with military infrastructure causing toxic and ammunition waste pollution.
There have been instances of deliberate chemical blasting and cutting of glacial ice to accommodate military camps. The regular troop movements, vehicle activities, and helicopter flights further contribute to the glacier’s instability and degradation. The debris used by Indian troops found on the glacier’s surface paints a grim picture, encompassing remnants of crashed helicopters, worn-out gun barrels, shrapnel from gun shelling, fuel barrels, burnt shelters, communication wires, para-dropping boards, canisters, gunny bags, and even human remains. This alarming collection of non-biodegradable materials significantly contributes to the greenhouse effect, elevating temperatures, and hastening the melting of snow and glacial ice. The formation of unstable glacial lakes as a consequence poses a severe and ever-present risk of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF).
The adverse repercussions of the glacier’s degradation extend beyond its immediate surroundings. The Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir’s heightened vulnerability to floods, landslides, and avalanches is a direct consequence of this environmental deterioration. The dumping of wastes from the glacial ridge into lower crevasses has been directly linked to the tragic 2012 Saltoro avalanche, which claimed the lives of 140 individuals.
The combination of political ecology and militarized governance has made Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events, landslides, and ecological imbalances. The disastrous consequences of militarization on the environment have created a cycle of ecological vulnerability and disaster susceptibility in the region.
One of the main challenges in Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir is the inadequate governance and lack of priority given to environmental preservation over military interests. The focus on militarized governance has marginalized ecological concerns, perpetuating an unsustainable balance between military activities and environmental well-being.
It is worth mentioning that the Amarnath Yatra, code-named “Operation Shiva”, has raised concerns as a form of militarized tourism with extensive troop deployments, movements, and the establishment of military camps along the route, operating under a state of surveillance and siege. The militarized approach aims to integrate Kashmir into a Hindu cartography, undeniably the influx of tourists has generated non-biodegradable waste, potentially causing more ecological harm than physical land appropriation.
The cost of this militarized environmental catastrophe is not merely confined to nature alone. India’s substantial stockpile of land mines along Line of Control has resulted in significant loss of lives and limbs for both humans and livestock. The indiscriminate placement of land mines in forests and fields has haunted communities, leaving them grappling with immeasurable grief due to the loss of loved ones and livelihoods. The unexploded shells have been found to cause fatalities after military deployment, while the contamination of soil and water sources renders them unsuitable for use, devastating the livelihoods and communities that rely on these resources.
The Biodiversity Act of 2002 was put in place to protect our natural resources, as highlighted in the 1992 United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). However, the stunning wetlands of Wular lake in Bandipora, home to a wide range of birds and animals, now face a serious threat. The Indian government is dumping solid and biomedical waste, even on grazing lands for local cattle and sheep, putting many bird species, including migratory birds, in danger. These wetlands are vital for flood control, coastlines, and clean water, but the waste dumping in flood-prone areas could harm the delicate balance of nature and the diverse life they support. It’s crucial to act swiftly to stop this harmful practice and protect our environment and its rich biodiversity.
The impact of constant military presence and patrolling, including the establishment of Naval Bases, around Kashmir’s lakes has been severe on lake-dwelling communities. Their traditional lifestyles and economic activities have been disrupted, leading to increasing impoverishment. The fragile lake ecosystems are at risk due to water pollution, habitat destruction, and loss of biodiversity resulting from military activities.
The ecological fragility of Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir demands urgent attention to ensure the well-being of both its environment and inhabitants. The impact of this militarization extends beyond ecological concerns. It is imperative to address the environmental degradation caused by the military presence and its long-term consequences on the region’s ecological richness and sustainability. Protecting Kashmir’s natural beauty and promoting sustainable development requires awareness and concerted efforts to restore and preserve the delicate ecosystems that have been deeply affected by this troubling reality.
– The writer, Mehr un Nisa, holds an MPhil in Peace and Conflict Studies from NDU and currently serves as Director of Research & Human Rights Desk at Kashmir Institute of International Relations.
Source – https://www.kmsnews.org/kms/2023/08/09/environmental-impact-of-iiojk-militarization.html