Solved! Water crisis in the high desert of Himalaya
Sonam Wangchuk is helping farmers in the arid Himalayan highlands of Ladakh to overcome water shortages by tapping meltwaters to build artificial glaciers. In spring, farmers who live at 3,500 m in the trans-Himalayan mountains of Ladakh face acute water shortages. Ladakhi engineer Sonam Wangchuk’s ingenious solution is to freeze glacial meltwater into towering conical mounds resembling Tibetan religious stupas. These ice stupas behave like mini-glaciers, slowly releasing irrigation water for the growing season.
ARTIFICIAL GLACIERS OF LADAKH
Ladakh is a trans-Himalayan mountain desert in the extreme north of India with villages located at 2,700m to 4,000m altitudes. It is a cold desert with winter temperatures touching -30° C, and an average annual rain/snow fall of only 100 mm. Human settlements are almost always located around glacial streams which feed into the Indus and other rivers as tributaries. The key to human settlement in this cold desert is the art of diverting water from the streams through meticulously built canals toward deserts to grow crops like barley, wheat, vegetables and trees like apricots, apples, willow and poplar.
Most villages face acute water shortage, particularly during the two crucial months of April and May when there is little water in the streams andall the villagers compete to water their newly planted crops. By mid-June there is an excess of water and even flash flooding due to the fast melting of the snow and glaciers in the mountains. By mid-September all farming activities end, and yet a smaller stream flows throughout the winter steadily but wastefully going into the Indus river without being of use to anybody.
The problem is getting worse with time as Himalayan glaciers are disappearing due to global warming and local pollution.
This winter after two years of experiments at SECMOL Alternative Institute the Pheyang Monastery near the institute will see the making of ice stupa from artificial glaciers which store this wasting winter water in the form of ice mountains that melt and feed the farms when water is most needed by the farmers. This project has been initiated by His Holiness Drikung Skyabgon Chetsang Rinpochey and executed in partnership with SECMOL. To provide a platform for further innovations, The Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh(HIAL) is being planned.
As Featured in Rolex Awards for Enterprise.