Global warming: Indians decide to make their own glaciers
Global warming causes glaciers to retreat in India, prompting ingenuity from mountain farmers to conserve water for crops.
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Norphel says a good artificial glacier costs $50,000. He gets only partial support – about $20,000 a glacier over a five-year window – from the central government's Watershed Redevelopment Program. If the money doesn't materialize, he might have to scale back either the scope of the project or its upkeep. No one else has stepped forward to help with funding, and while journalists have chronicled his work, no scientists have come to study the technique. That doesn't seem to bother him: He says simply that he is more interested in training local villagers than in passing his knowledge on to academics.Skip to next paragraph
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He is starting to get attention from environmental groups, however, and he now has a PowerPoint presentation that he gave most recently this September at a climate change conference in Ladakh's capital of Leh.
"I think Ladakh is the first victim of climate change," says Padma Tashi, who runs a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) and organized the conference. And "we, the people of Ladakh, are looking for some kind of climate justice."
By "climate justice," Mr. Tashi means reparations in the form of payments from developed countries that have produced most of the world's greenhouse gases. That money could then be used to fund adaptation projects like Norphel's glaciers, or rebuild villages following climatic disasters like the 2006 flood.
Flush toilets and daily showers drain water supply
While India was one of the early victims of developed countries' pollution, Ladakhis are also responsible for their environment's degradation. The district has welcomed an explosion of tourists – from 18,000 in 2000 to 74,000 last year. They have brought profligate attitudes about water usage, including daily bathing and flush toilets. As a result, natural glacier-fed springs that three years ago supplied enough water for the capital have dried up. To compensate, Ladakhis have started drilling bore holes and taking more water out of the head-waters of the Indus River.
For the most part, the district government has done little to enforce conservation beyond talking about a development plan and restricting private well drilling. Otherwise, the government is focused entirely on increasing supply, rather than curbing demand.
"Demand you cannot restrict," says Ravinder Kumar Koaul, executive engineer of Leh's water department. "Now, every house is having these flushing latrines," he says, adding that it is up to NGOs to promote conservation.
To meet summer demand, Mr. Koaul needs to increase the water supply from 700,000 gallons of water a day to 1.6 million gallons – with most of the new water coming from the Indus. "Once the river dries up, what will happen?" Koaul muses. "I don't know."
Every drop taken out by Ladakhis also equals less water for India's archrival, Pakistan, whose agriculture depends on the river. When asked about how Pakistan might feel about this, a visiting water developer replied, "Why should we care?"
For Tashi, the focus ought to be on sustainable adaptations to climate change, like Norphel's glaciers and a renewed focus on traditional conservation values for residents and tourists alike – not short-term fixes like raiding the Indus. He urges leaders to think of the thathugu, or "the generation to come."
"If the situation continues like we are facing now, and we are not going to do anything, [then] the people of Ladakh will not be in a position to hand over land to the next generation," says Tashi. "If there is no water, within 10 to 15 years, many villages and Ladakhis will have to pick up and go somewhere."