Home > Planetwatch > Planetwatch series – Ice Man of Ladakh

Planetwatch series – Ice Man of Ladakh

Climate change. Till yesterday it was merely scientific jargon, today it has reached our doorsteps. Yesterday it was a matter of debate, a controversial topic, today it is concrete reality. Each organism, be it man, animal, bird, insect or plant is experiencing the effects of climate change, directly or indirectly. At times we are consciously aware of it, most times we are oblivious. But in recent years there have been times when it intruded into our consciousness, making its presence felt, reminding us to do something about it. We are still waiting for the curtain to rise.But there are a few who has risen up to face the challenge, to mitigate the disastrous effects within the extent of their power. Chewang Norphel and the Leh Nutrition Project is one such initiative. Norphel is a retired government civil servant and has built 11 artificial glaciers so far since 1987. He is still enthusiastic about the project despite inadequate funds and lukewarm cooperation from villagers.

Ladakh in northern India, is a cold desert. It is also a major tourist destination. People of Ladakh depend on glacial melt water for irrigation and domestic use. However, glaciers have been receding at an alarming pace in recent years leading to severe water shortages. It is in this context that Chewang Norphel’s initiative gains significance. In a pioneering effort, he has made embankments on mountainsides to collect water which freezes during the winter months into an artificial glacier. During summer the ice melts providing water to nearby villages. It is a venture astounding in its simplicity and practicality, well adapted to the necessities of the region. Such conservation methods are infinitely more preferable to digging bore wells which deplete ground water resources.

Ladakh have been experiencing higher average temperatures, unusual rainfall patterns, reduced snow cover and other associated fallouts apart from deterioration of glaciers in the past few years. Despite experiencing these problems firsthand and understanding the antecedent causes, attitude and behaviour have remained unchanged. It is business as usual. Vehicular pollution is still relatively high and littering continues to be problem. It looks like we find it easy to relegate long term effects of climate change to the background in favour of the immediate occupation of survival and comfort.

The Copenhagen summit to frame legally binding treaties to address climate change issues have already hit a road block. US, the world’s biggest cumulative greenhouse gas emitter has declined to submit to emission cut targets and timetables. Developing nations are not willing to jeopardize their economic agenda by subscribing to restrictive environmental regulations. When the world at large is engaged in acrimonious debate over such a critical issue, it is a relief to find that a few have chosen to act instead. My heart goes out to Chewang Norphel.

Inspired by: Op-Ed article in The Hindu by Meena Menon, 7-Nov-09



Categories: Planetwatch
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