Climate Change in Neelum Valley

Climate Change

Climate Change, after the Fourth Assessment Report (4 AR) of the IPCC is becoming a hot topic on the global environmental agenda and is spiralling discussions among communities living in mountain environments, now becoming increasingly vulnerable to its impacts. Neelum Valley located 200 KM north-east of Muzaffarabad, capital city of Azad Kashmir, along Neelum River is known for its dense moist/dry temperate forests, cold waters of glacier fed streams rich in trout, and majestic alpine pastures attracting resident and nomadic graziers during summer. Almost every year, the valley remains snow bound for more than six months starting from October till late March. Generally there is a lack of social research, knowledge and perceptions of local communities about climate change, particularly its impact on people and their environment. However, in recent years the impacts of climate change are being felt by the resident and nomadic grazier communities deriving their livelihoods from climate sensitive fragile ecosystems in Neelum Valley. During a recent visit to Muzaffarabad, personal communication with Mohammad Yousaf Qureshi, Regional Project Director, Programme for Mountain Areas Conservation (PMAC) revealed some circumstantial aspects of climate change which local communities feel in upper Neelum Valley.

In Arrang Kel, a small village (34 48 N and 74 21 E ) in Neelum Valley located in dry temperate zone with deodar, fir and spruce as the major conifer species, a walnut (Juglans regia) tree planted in 1924 has started bearing fruit only ten years back. Growth of the trees planted in this area since 1991 has been vigorous as compared to early planting. People attribute this abrupt change in fruiting and growth of walnut tree due to increasing temperatures during last two decades. The villagers say that the snow melt in the past used to commence from 15 May onwards but now snow melt starts in early April, one month before the usual time. In 2008, some villagers made a strange observation, first time finding mushrooms growing on snow.

climate 2

Vibernum nervosum, locally called Guchh, a shrub growing vigorously in moist and dry temperate forests as an under growth species used to flower during April but is now flowering early in January/February. Again, as per local people, frost usually started in September but has now advanced to October/November, a delay of more than one month. In Arrang Kel and other villages, small farmers would grow short season buckwheat as an alternate crop with maize (corn) to ensure production of buckwheat, as maize would sometime fail to ripe due to cold climate. But now people for sure knowing that maize can be grown successfully have abandoned alternate cropping.

About fruit tree planting in this area, people believe that in the past they were not successful but in recent years they have observed that cherry plants planted ten years back have now started bearing fruits, although they are still not happy with the quality of fruits. Previously people did not have enough walnuts to sell in the local market, but now successful walnut fruiting and planting has been possible due to warm temperatures. Yet another observation by the local people reveals that growth of natural broad-leaved plants such as Acer and Walnut has increased as compared to associated conifer species. Many subsistence farmers believe that with rising temperatures, attack of rodents on crops has increased.

Beautiful Ansoo Lake view
Beautiful Ansoo Lake view

These are some of the generic climate related observations made by the poor people living in a very climate sensitive area. There is a need of more social and scientific research to validate these observations and come up with empirical data that could be helpful in designing climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies for areas like Neelum Valley where impacts of climate change would be significant. (*Contributed by: Dr. Bashir Ahmed Wani – Coordinator Policy Reforms, SLMP, Pakistan)