G’nY. After the breakthrough innovation of the ‘artificial glacier’, can you say that it has substantively changed the lives of the people in the region?
Chewang Norphel: To assert how artificial glacier changed the lives of people qualitatively and quantitatively, I would like to cite an example of a village Nang in the east Leh town. This is a village with 70 families where people are mostly farmers. They depended on a meagre produce of wheat and barley. Since the creation of an artificial glacier around 12 years ago, the people started cultivating potatoes. Now they are known for their bountiful production of potatoes. Interestingly, the villagers of Nang have now become the potato seed suppliers in Leh district. It is but obvious that the average family income too also increased manifold.
G’nY. What role did traditional learning play in this innovation?
Chewang Norphel: Having been brought up in a farmers’ family in Ladakh, I have observed number of instances where farmers faced problems related to water. Its scarcity aggravated disputes amongst villagers and even within families. All these observations remained at the back of my mind during my student days. Being a civil engineer by profession, I was engaged in the construction of roads in the Rural Development Department of J&K. One time, I observed running water turning frosty under the shade of some trees. That was my eureka moment—I realised that this can potentially solve water scarcity in the area. For six to seven months during winter, water drains into rivers and goes waste as there is no agriculture activity due to the intense cold. I tried to divert water from higher altitudes—at 4,500-5,000 m, to a ridge with a wide slope through a network of structures appropriately designed. Water was then made to flow in small quantities down the ridge. Over winter, huge reserves of water got converted into solid ice along the ridge. The Leh Nutrition Project (LNP), a Leh based NGO of which I am a part, received some support from the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India for building these artificial glaciers.
G’nY. Has your innovation moved beyond the boundaries of Leh to other glacial reaches of western Himalayas, Nepal, or even beyond India’s borders?
Chewang Norphel: Outside Leh, my innovation has been replicated at two glaciers in the Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh. It was carried out under my supervision.
G’nY. Would you say that as a water conservation tool, man-made glaciers should be encouraged—what in your opinion are its limitations?
Chewang Norphel: Since the artificial glacier is based on a very simple technique, with very low cost and highly beneficial for masses, I believe that it should be encouraged at a policy level. However, its limitation is that it can be created only in places like Ladakh where a fairly large amount of water is available during winter.
G’nY. As artificial glacier leads to greater water efficiency and conservation, how can this practice be disseminated within the society?
Chewang Norphel: In the present scenario of water scarcity, water conservation should be given a top priority. Any method of water conservation, including artificial glaciers, should be propagated in such a way that upcoming generation realise the importance of water. Such propagation can be carried through government and non-government agencies like various foundations.
G’nY. What is the way forward?
Chewang Norphel: A water conservation strategy is important wherein a community based region specific plan should be implemented. Hereafter, appropriate resources need to be provided to the communities living in the Ladakh region so that they initiate their interest in utilising resources for water management, conservation and utilisation and can further mobilise others.