On the Front Lines of Climate Change

Request to Save Water

Water scarcity, brought on by climate change, mismanagement of resources, pollution, and countless other factors, has become a reality in much of the world. It hits countries in the developing world especially hard, at a time when those who’ve contributed the least to climate change bear most of the impact. Issues surrounding water scarcity are also predicted to bring about regional international conflicts: as written by former World Bank Vice President Ismail Serageldin, “[m]any of the wars of the 20th century were about oil, but wars of the 21st century will be over water.”

A high-altitude, cold desert which recieves less than 60 mm of rain annually (compared to Pittsburgh’s 800 mm yearly), Ladakh’s primary water source is glaciers, located high atop the mountains on which the villages sit. The retreat of these glaciers, combined with current precipitation patterns deviating from historical norms, means that Ladakhi farmers cannot get the water that they need in early spring for begin planting their crops. Not enough water means conflicts between villages or farms, food scarcity, reliance on subsidized food from the Indian government, and in the worst cases, displacement.


As briefly mentioned in a previous blog post, a solution to this has been artificial glaciers. Designed by a Ladakhi civil engineer, the artificial glaciers have provided a means of stabilizing water sources, at least in the short term. Artificial glaciers are designed so that they take in glacial meltwater in the colder months of the year when water use is at its minimum and store it until it’s needed during the planting season, effectively reducing water waste in the region. Artificial glaciers require a certain altitude, south-facing orientation, and natural grade of the mountainside on which they are to be placed. Additionally, they are constructed in a large community-led effort, with the villagers who will be benefiting from the technology being the ones responsible for constructing and maintaining it.


In previous research and interviews, artificial glaciers have been typically well received by villagers, mitigating internal conflicts and allowing for successful planting seasons. This reaffirms that innovation and problem solving don’t necessarily require high-tech solutions. In fact, in many cases, that would not be possible. Those responsible for the planning involved with adapting to current and future climate-related problems can learn many lessons from Ladakh: for development to be sustainable, it must consider the needs, cultural and geographical context, and capacity of a community foremost to solve any problem. A culture and landscape as rare as Ladakh’s requires design interventions that are equally unique.


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