Himalayan Water Stress Boosts Sustainable Agriculture
On a Saturday afternoon in October, Kaza’s arid landscape wore a desolate look. The sparse households sounded quiet. The shadows of the surrounding mountains grew darker as the evening inched closer and the temperature neared the freezing point.
In a small cafe, Nawang Dhargey, 31, sat idle as he waited in anticipation for a customer to walk in. Dhargey’s livelihood relies on the footfall of tourists. But in this season, when the mercury dips as low as minus 10 degrees Celsius, Dhargey’s cafe remains mostly empty. His other source of income used to be farming, but now that too has taken a hit, as Kaza and dozens of other villages in Spiti Valley are plagued by water scarcity.
Kaza is one of several remote villages in Spiti Valley, which is located in India’s northern state of Himachal Pradesh. This region remains dry throughout the summer, and receives little rainfall, mostly in the form of drizzle.
The glacial runoffs from the Hindu Kush and Himalayan mountain ranges that stretch from Afghanistan to China, also referred to as the Third Pole, feed Asia’s key rivers, which provide water for drinking, irrigation and hydroelectric energy for over four billion people. A 2019 research found that around 129 million farmers depend on meltwater from the Himalayan glaciers for their crop production and livelihoods.
Studies, as well as glaciologists, suggest that the low-altitude glaciers in Spiti Valley are receding at a rate of one meter a year. In addition, the region has witnessed a decline in snowfall over the past few years. According to a report by the State Centre on Climate Change Shimla and the Space Application Centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation in Ahmedabad, the total area under snow cover in the entire state has declined by 18.5 percent between 2019-20 and 2020-21.
The state also received only 59 millimeters of rain in the last season, which is 69 percent less than usual, according to the Meteorological Department. According to a study conducted by the non-governmental organisation Navikarana, 23 villages in Zanskar are facing drought-like situations.
But evident changes in the ice fields could adversely impact the lives of people dependent on these water sources, with several studies indicating that a rising concentration of black carbon aerosol is causing the glaciers in this Himalayan region to melt rapidly.
Photo courtesy of