Climate Change in Zanskar

Our time in Stongdey Village has been an incredibly powerful experience. Our group has been living with families in the village, learning about their daily lives, their culture, and the environmental challenges they face. We have been incredibly humbled by their hospitality, kindness, and friendship. Even though we do not share a common culture or language, they have treated us like we were family.

In the alpine desert of Zanskar, water is literally life here and the communities have developed elaborate systems on how to manage this scarce resource. Intricate canals and irrigation ditches crisscross the landscape, and with the help of manure, turn the barren dirt into productive fields of barley, wheat, and peas. Even in this harsh landscape, they have been able to obtain yields similar to those in the United States and Europe.

Unfortunately, climate change is now impacting their way of life and their future in the valley. Temperatures have increased twice as fast in the Himalayas as the global average and are beginning to cause rapid melting of glaciers. For communities that rely solely on glacial melt to irrigate their crops, this is a devastating development.

Yesterday, we visited Kumik, a village almost one thousand years old and on the front lines of climate change. We had the honor of speaking with Meme Palden, Kumik’s oldest living inhabitant, who spent the morning telling us about the changes he has seen. When he was a young child, he told us the glaciers covered the entire mountains and came down almost to the edges of the village. Now, there are a few slivers left on the upper ridges and the glacier does not have many years left before it completely vanishes. Recently, the village came the difficult realization that their water was quickly drying up and could not sustain the community. We asked Meme Palden what they would do. He said the younger families will leave and try to rebuild their lives closer to the Zanskar River. He, however, plans to stay and die in the village.

Stongdey, similar to Kumik, is one of the most water-scarce villages in the valley. They have a much larger glacier left than Kumik, but as it has receded further up the mountain, the water now sometimes arrives too late for the initial irrigation. This has led to their seeds drying out and widespread crop failure.

A local engineer named Tsewang Norphel has recently invented the idea of artificial glaciers in hopes of mitigating this problem and providing a more reliable source of water. Artificial glaciers are essentially large ice reservoirs, created by diverting near-freezing stream water behind rock walls. They are built at lower altitudes than natural glaciers so as the weather warms during the spring months, they melt sooner and provide crucial water for irrigation during the planting season.

We have been working with Stongdey Village for the past four years on building artificial glaciers in the stream valley above the village. This year our group has been conducting a process evaluation of the project to determine what has been working well, what could be changed, and lessons for other villages that would want to start a similar project.

The resiliency and ingenuity of the communities here have been incredibly inspiring. Faced with monumental challenges, they continue to strive for new solutions and fight to maintain their way of life.

IVS Nepal Earthquake Relief Efforts

Dear Friends,

As you know, the earthquake in Nepal last month killed more than 8,000 people, while destroying the homes and livelihood of countless others.

The Institute has very strong ties to villages in the Rasuwa and Langtang regions of northern Nepal. These remote areas were devastated by the earthquake, and because of their remoteness, are getting little, if any, help from large agencies.

Many homes were destroyed and people are sleeping in rudimentary shelters in the open fields. It is the main farming season and they are facing the difficult choice between planting their crops or trying to salvage temporary shelters out of their demolished houses. If they do not plant their crops now they will not have food supplies and income for next year, but if they do not fix their homes, they will be exposed to the heavy monsoon rains and the diseases they bring. The early rains have already begun and the situation will dramatically worsen by the end of June.

We are working with the Rural Tourism and Environmental Education Society (RTEES), a local nonprofit based in Rasuwa that has worked in the region for many years. Our immediate efforts have focused on providing food, clothes, and medicine. The next urgent need is to raise funds for sturdy tents and waterproof sleeping pads to make it through the monsoon season. We have also made a commitment to support the long-term rebuilding process in Rasuwa, once the initial needs have been met.

We have started collecting donations with an initial goal of $15,000, and so far, have raised $11,868.00.  100% of each dollar we receive goes directly to communities affected by the earthquake. We do not deduct administrative or organizational fees. We are also a 501(c)3 organization and your contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

These communities have had a huge impact on our lives and have humbled us with their kindness and compassion. As is often the case, those will the least amount of resources, show the greatest amount of generosity.

Thank you for your support, we greatly appreciate it.
Frank, Kelly, Charlie and the IVS community

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Artificial Glaciers in Zanskar

Greetings from Zanskar,

We have arrived in the spectacular Zanskar valley, where we will be spending the majority of our remaining three weeks in India. Zanskar is surrounded on three sides by glacial peaks, with a silt-stained river flowing gently through valley floor.

Many of the families here are subsistence farmers, relying on the harvest from the short summer season to provide enough food for the bitterly cold winter months. Glacial melt is the primary source of irrigation for their crops, and in recent years is being affected by climate change. One village, Kuming, is being forced to relocate because its water sources are drying up.

One of the purposes of our trip was to work with the community in Stongdey to help address the issue of their changing climate. We have met with the village leaders and will be supporting their efforts to build artificial glaciers. Artificial glaciers are essentiall ice reservoirs built at lower altitudes than natural glaciers. The hope is that these will provide an additional source of irrigation water and act as an insurance in particularly poor water years. We will update you more about this project in the next email.

The students are staying with local families in the villages of Stongdey and Zangla. They are all doing well and adjusting to being immersed in remote village life in the Himalayas. We are continually amazed by the kindness of the families here, warmly welcoming us into their homes and communities. The pride they take in being hosts is something many of us hope we can emulate in our own lives back in the US.

Charlie and James