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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Chewang Norphel,The ice-man of Ladakh brings hope to farmers

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Chewang Norphel - The Ice-man

Chewang Norphel, the ice-man as he is called is the pioneer of artificial glaciers for agriculture and livelihood in Ladakh region. Mr. Norphel has pioneered the first artificial glacier in 1987 in Phuktse Phu village to increase the agricultural production resulting into increase in the income of local people. According to Mr. Norphel, the artificial glaciers will increase ground water recharge besides rejuvenating the spring water. The embankment built against the artificial glacier in the downstream under Leh Nutrition Project (LNP) started by Mr. Norphel himself, would help store water and the water thus stored would help recharge the ground water and would contribute to the irrigation of crops and apple orchards in the cold desert area of Ladakh. About 80 percent of the farmers in this region depend on the snow-melts for their needs but the receding glaciers of the region have made miserable the lives of the people. This is all due to global warming and the climate change as observed by researchers and scientists.

Chewang Norphel is a retired government civil engineer. He is fighting hard to bring water to the people of his region. He has planned to build three artificial glaciers funded by the Indian Army’s Sadbhawana Project. These three artificial glaciers have been planned to be built at a distance of about one km from the Stakmo village located in the area of Leh. The natural glacier at Stakmo has already dried up putting the people of the area in difficult situations of livelihood. The three artificial glaciers under the project are expected to store 2million cubic feet of ice between the months of November to December. Three tiered series of stone embankments that have been built are expected to guide and arrest water flow in the watershed constructed along the hill slope. The ice which usually melts by mid-April gets collected in the water shed and starts helping farmers right since the time of sowing crops.

Chewang Norphel pointing towards a dried glacier in Ladakh
(courtesy: CNN)

It is important to note here that a decline in the plant diversity is being observed in the Ladakh region since 1993. This is further resulting into a considerable decline in the diversity of animals for example the diversity of insects. The environmentalists across the country report that warmer temperatures, less snow on the mountain tops, unusually heavy spells of rain and reducing natural streams have emerged as threatening signs of the climatic change. The mean temperature has been reported to show a rising trend by 1celcius degree for winter and 5 Celsius degrees for summer between 1973 and 2008.

Under the conditions mentioned above a number of glaciers have been receded and dried up causing great hardships for water to the inhabitants of the region. Under these conditions efforts of Chewang Norphel have come to be the life saving efforts for the people of the region.

The Outlook India.com reports-Norphel has already made 10 such glaciers. His idea is simple yet striking. Using nothing more than a few hundred meters of iron pipes, stone embankments and a whole lot of ingenuity, he diverts water from a stream into a man-made channel. The channel has some 70 outlets through which water drips down the mountain slope and freezes even before it hits the retaining walls built along the lower reaches of the slope. The walls remain concealed under the glacier until April when the mercury starts rising, just the time farmers need water for their fields. It's a blessing in the cold desert that Ladakh is. Here, farmers harvest just one crop of wheat, barley or peas a year and rely mostly on glacier melt because it seldom rains in this 'desert in the skies'. The cropping window too is also a short six months after which severe winter sets in. Norphel's technique now gives them a head-start in the supply of water. Norphel's largest glacier is the one at village Phuktsey, which is 1,000 ft long, 150 ft wide and 4 ft in depth. It can supply water for the entire village of 700 people and cost Rs 90,000 to make.

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