February 2015 The mere mention of Ladakh conjures up awe-inspiring visuals of natural beauty – an untouched white sand desert cloistered by snow-capped peaks. However, this picture perfect land is also a challenging and arid habitation for locals, with acute shortage of fresh water supply. Being an old mountain desert, Ladakh receives only about 50 mm of annual rainfall. Hence, around 80 per cent of the farmers depend upon water from melting glaciers to tend their barley fields. However, due to a rise in global warming in the last three to four decades, the natural glaciers have started melting slowly, and mostly much after the time of sowing. Chewang Norphel : problem solved! This posed a threat to the survival of the entire farming community, constituting almost two-third of the population. It was then that Chewang Norphel, a 79-year-old retired civil engineer with 36 years of government service, came up with the innovative idea of building artificial glaciers. The idea came to him while he saw water dripping from a tap drop-by-drop in order to prevent water from freezing and bursting the tap. The leaking water formed an ice-sheet on the ground where it got collected. It struck him that if he could catch some of the snow-melt water from natural glaciers in summer time, store it throughout autumn and winters, then the spring would be a good time for the water to melt and farmers to start sowing. A diploma holder from Lucknow University, Norphel put his skills and talent to use and along with the locals, set about experimenting with this idea in Phutse village in 1987. According to him, water can be stored as an artificial glacier by minimizing its velocity and expanding the steepness of its fall. He diverted the snow-melt water from the mainstream into small catchment areas by designing canals, around four kms away from the village. He also created a shaded area to keep the water frozen in winters. The other factors that influenced the quick melting of artificial glaciers are proximity to the village as well as lower altitudinal location as compared to natural glaciers. His pilot project was hampered by lack of funds as well as a sceptical populace, so he put in the Rs 90,000 required for it. However, after its success, the whole community came together and under the guidance of Norphel, have built 12 glaciers as of now. These artificial glaciers today spell deliverance to the land of Ladakh. Which all goes to prove that solutions to the most difficult problems exist – if we could but use our head, and heart!
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