Ladakh, a cold desert at an altitude of 3,000-3,500 metres above sea level, has a low average annual rainfall rate of 50mm. Therefore, glaciers are the only source of water. 80 percent of Ladakh’s population depends on farming, which is completely dependent on snow & glacier melt. Because of global warming, the glaciers are receding quickly and as a result, farmers face a lot of difficulty in getting adequate water. On the other hand, a lot of water gets wasted during the winter months as, due to the severe cold climate, farmers cannot grow any crops in that season. Given the severe winter conditions, the window for farming is usually limited to one harvest season.
It was a big problem for farmers.
In came, Mr Chewang Norphel, an Indian civil engineer, who gave the concept of Artificial Glaciers in 1987. The idea first came to him when he saw water dripping from a tap which was kept open so as to avoid the water from freezing in winter and bursting the tap. The water gradually froze into the shape of an ice sheet as it came in touch with the ground and made a pool.
It struck him that the water that melts from natural glaciers due to high temperatures in summer goes to waste as it flows into the river. Instead, if this water can be stored in summer and autumn so that it can form a glacier in winter, then this artificial glacier would melt in spring and provide water to the villagers at the right time.
Based on this, he created artificial glaciers by diverting a river into a valley, slowing the stream by constructing checks. The artificial glacier is an intricate network of channels and structures built on the upper slope of a valley to divert water from the main river of the glacier melt and then freeze it in winter in cascades which melt in summer in time for the sowing season.
It is located between the natural glacier above and the village below. The one closer to the village and lowest in altitude melts first, providing water during April/May, the crucial sowing season. Further layers of ice above melt with increasing temperature thus ensuring continuous supply to the fields. Thus farmers have been able to manage two crops instead of one. It costs about Rs.1,50,000 and above to create one depending on the size and location.
His efforts have increased the agricultural production, thereby increasing the income of the locals. This has also reduced the migration to cities. His simple technique has brought water closer to the villages, and most importantly, made it available when the villagers need it the most.
In the future, he wants to continue making the glaciers and plans to build in other areas like Lahol, Spiti, Zangskar, etc. The only thing that comes as a challenge is lack of adequate funds.
“As you sow, so you reap. There is no doubt that if one has strong determination and dedication, there is nothing impossible in the world. That is what I believe,” Norphel says.
For his innovation & continued efforts, he was awarded Padma Shri in 2015 by the President Sh. Pranab Mukherjee.
Here is the video