Chewang Norphel: A Man Who Creates Artificial Glaciers in Ladakh to Survive Global Warming

Discussion in 'India' started by garry420, Apr 4, 2015.

  1. garry420

    garry420 Well-Known Member


    The melting of natural glaciers due to climate change is a matter of global concern. But in Ladakh, a technique to create artificial glaciers that are designed to melt has rejuvenated agriculture. A remote Indian village is responding to global warming-induced water shortages by creating large masses of ice, or "artificial glaciers," to get through the dry spring months.

    Recent studies from 466 glaciers of the Indian Himalayas indicate that there has been a 21% reduction in the glacierised area ---from 2,077 sq km in 1962 to 1,628 sq km in 2004. Smaller glaciers of less than 1 sq km have reduced in area by as much as 38% compared to 12% retreat of larger glaciers.

    Ladakh is a cold desert, and for its farmers – 80% of whom depend on glacial melt for irrigating the land -- this is a very ominous sign. In the long term, shrinking glaciers will mean smaller amounts of that precious commodity, water. Already, the shrinking of the Ganglas glacier atop Khardungla is undermining the Indian army’s irrigation project.

    One person who has been aware of these changes and for the need to tackle them with adaptive technologies is 74-year-old‪ Chhewang_Norphel‬. An engineer who used to work with the rural development department, he has been experimenting with creating ‘artificial’ glaciers for more than two decades, combining indigenous knowledge with scientific expertise. He currently works with the Leh Nutrition Project, a civil society organisation.

    Norphel explains that an ‘artificial’ glacier is essentially a high-altitude water harvesting and conservation technique which uses the common principle of converting water into ice.

    Norphel revived an old local technique which entails spreading the water so that it can freeze easily, by diverting the waters of a main stream towards the shady side of the mountain. An intricate network of water channels and dams then reduces the velocity of the water and this allows the ice to form. At each dip or slope in the terrain, retaining walls like a series of mini-dams are built which further check the velocity.

    Efforts are made to tap every drop of water, even the water flowing below the frozen ice, which can then add to the surface run-off that is being harvested. This artificial glacier begins to melt in April (as against June for the natural glaciers), and it supplies water for the barley crop just when it is most needed.

    ‪#Norphel‬’s first experiment was in Phuktse Phu in 1987. It provided water to four villages. Since then, the Leh Nutrition Project has built 10 such artificial glaciers each costing between Rs 3-10 lakh. The artificial glaciers are funded under the Indian government’s Watershed Development Programmes and also under the Indian army’s Sadbhavna project, which is aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the people in Jammu and Kashmir and the forward areas through the funding of various development schemes.

    Before embarking on the construction of the artificial glacier, the main stakeholder -- the village community -- is consulted. Their active involvement determines where and how the waters of the headstream can be suitably diverted and other crucial elements like availability of land, timing of the melt and so on.

    The water harvesting project has its own challenges and constraints. One is the high cost of setting it up. It is also difficult to find the required labour for maintenance and, because of the terrain and the high altitude, the cost of transporting the materials is high. But the benefits are many. At Stakna village near Leh where there is one such artificial glacier built under the aegis of the Sadbhavna project, the melting water has enabled Tashi Tundup, who owns several small holdings, to get an increased wheat crop. “The summer season is now extended since we get water from April and this has enabled us to grow additional crops like potatoes and green peas,” he says.

    The increased confidence in agriculture as a sustainable livelihood can help check emigration. In addition, there are environmental benefits like groundwater recharge and soil moisture conservation.

    His idea and its implementation have greatly benefited Ladakh and Norphel has received many citations and felicitations for his pioneering work in this field. His idea has been praised the world over. It certainly shows man’s capacity to innovate and adapt in the harshest of conditions and emerge victorious.
    Sources & Readings:
    [1] Freny Manecksha, a freelance writer based in Mumbai and I/N

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