A Community Named After Glaciers

by | May 20, 2016

“The world has a water shortage, not a food shortage.”

From ancient times, explorers have “followed the water.” Water’s unique chemical and physical properties are essential to human survival. Without water, basic physical processes would be impossible. Cells within the human body would die. None of the essential physical functions, such as breathing, digestion, or muscle movement could take place without water. About 70 percent of the human body is made up of water and, coincidentally, more than 70 percent of Earth is covered in water. Water creates an environment that sustains and nurtures plants, animals and humans, making Earth a perfect match for life in general. Although water is seemingly abundant,

• 97.5% of all water on Earth is salt water, leaving only 2.5% as fresh water

• Nearly 70% of that fresh water is frozen in the icecaps of Antarctica and Greenland; most of the remainder is present as soil moisture, or lies in deep underground aquifers as groundwater not accessible to human use.

• Only ~1% of the world’s fresh water is accessible for direct human uses.


The real issue is not just the amount but also the duration when fresh water is available. Most people may drink only two litres of water a day, but they consume up to 3000 litres if the water that goes into their food is taken into account. Farming accounts for roughly 70% of human water consumption. Thus controlling water to grow crops has been the primary motivation for human alteration of freshwater supplies. This is the water found in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and those underground sources that are shallow enough to be tapped at an affordable cost. Irrigation, drainage, and impoundment have been the three well known types of water control having a major impact on landscapes and water flows.

Mountains are the Earth’s water towers. They store 70 % of all fresh water in the form glacial ice and snow. They provide up to 60%-80% of the world’s freshwater resources for domestic, agricultural and industrial consumption. Rivers in Asia’s Hindu Kush-Himalayan mountain region alone supply freshwater to more than 200 million people living in the region and 1.3 billion people living downstream. As glaciers melt, precipitation patterns change and tourism and development increases, these clean water sources and the people who depend upon them are at risk.

With almost no precipitation, life in the cold deserts of Ladakh gives a unique perspective to how mountain people have survived on glacial melt waters alone for centuries. In fact, most of the residents in Ladakh are named after the glaciers they survive from. This is because according to Buddhist tradition, every child is named by the Head monks of the local monastery. These monks use only a select few names (Stanzin is a very popular one). Due to this, so many end up with the same name that in order to distinguish them from each other often the respective persons village name is added as a suffix (example: Stanzin Shara). But the villages themselves are named after the streams that green them which in turn are named after the glaciers from where they originate. Hence most Ladakhi people are named after the glaciers that feed them water. Farming in Ladakh, is severely restricted due to both water availability and climatic conditions. The climate is suitable for farming only from April to September. But more importantly the quantity of glacial melt waters determine the area of farms that the village can support. This is why Ladakh even though being the 2nd largest district in India hardly supports a population of a metropolitan city like Mumbai.

But recently even the current population has come under threat due to dwindling supplies of the glacial stream in the high demand farming season.

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