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Glacier man's project starved of funds

April 30, 2007 09:44 IST

Chewang Norphel brought down glaciers, literally, to Ladakh. Water from Norphel's artificial glaciers enable farmers to till their land in April, grow plenty of fodder, barley and vegetables.

But the creator of artificial glaciers - that led to a mini-green revolution in Ladakh's sun-dried and cold rockscape - has had to stop at about 12 of his creations. This makes him a dejected man.

The soft-spoken civil engineer, who applied basic science for his unique water harvesting model, says, "I have upgraded my design to make it (the process of creating artificial glaciers) more economical, but where is the money?"

Acclaimed all over the world for his ingenuity in overcoming Mother Nature's vagaries, the 70-year-old 'Glacier Man of Ladakh' dreams of creating at least one of his wonders in each of the 122 districts of the region.

Norphel's glaciers are simple contraptions of rocks and pipes. Water from the main channels is diverted through a wall made of locally available rocks during the summer. Inch pipes channel the water into a large pit, about 150 ft wide and 600 ft long. Fluctuations in temperature create a glacier, which starts melting in April, releasing much-needed water for early sowing.

The first glacier - 1,000 ft long and 150 ft wide - Norphel built was at Phucktsey, 70 km off Leh on Manali road. This is the largest glacier built for Rs 90,000 by our Glacier Man. It was relatively easy for Norphel to generate the funds for his maiden venture from the Desert Development Programme, as he was working with Jammu and Kashmir's rural development department then.

Norphel has retired from the state department since then. He now heads the UNICEF- funded Leh Nutrition Project in the picturesque capital town of Ladakh.

But what ails the Glacier Man now is the shortfall of the growing mistrust between the local hill council and NGOs working in Ladakh. For, Norphel now finds himself targeted by the government and funds flow is just a trickle for his projects.

"Under the Watershed Management Progamme, the Centre had proposed to give Rs 26 lakh (Rs 2.6 million) a village, but only Rs 600,000 were released," he says, adding that he is intrigued by the rhetorics on "global warming and depleting water resources, when an economical and sustainable idea like this is not able to get funds."

However, Ladakh MP Thupstan Chewwang says, "Norphel needs to do some paperwork on his dream-project and present the scheme to proper authorities for the funds."

The MP even offered money from his MPLAD fund (Member of Parliament's local area development fund) for Norphel's project, but only if he submitted a written proposal.

Norphel's initiative could be replicated in the entire Himalayan belt where water shortage is on the rise. He was an invitation from Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh - where the cold and dry climate is like that of Ladakh - for his wonder glaciers. A delegation from Afghanistan also visited the glacier sites and want to use Norphel's idea back home.

"All the acclaim and honours are fine but I will not be happy unless I am able to create 122 glaciers for my land," he says.
Aasha Khosa in New Delhi