Innovations don’t always happen in laboratories, it happens whenever and wherever the need arises. In fact, innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower in crucial times. This holds true for 79-year old Chewang Norphel , a retired civil engineer who has created artificial glaciers for supplying water to the dry mountainous and cold regions of Ladakh.
Today, Chewang is known as the “Ice Man of India”. Due to his valuable contribution, people in Ladakh are now somewhat relieved from water scarcity problem. Chewang had to take an early retirement due to his bad health. However, staying at home was not his cup of tea and the acute shortage of water in Ladakh pushed him to use his engineering skills for the betterment of people.
The average rainfall in Ladakh is about 50 mm annually, which is very less for about 80% population engaged in farming. The main source of water for irrigation came from melting of glaciers. Receding of glaciers quickly due to global warming created an inadequacy of water supply for farmers in the summers. On the contrary, quite a lot of water was wasted in winters due to farmers inability to grow any crops in the winter season.
It struck Chewang that if he could somehow conserve the water melting from glaciers in summers and autumn for forming a glacier in winter, the artificial glacier would be melting in spring season and supply water to the villagers just when they would need it for irrigation. Moreover, these artificial glaciers were built at a lower altitude than the original ones, which meant that they would start melting sooner and provide the villagers water for farming. He used all his expertise, innovation and hard work in building 10 such artificial glaciers.
The largest glacier he has built in Phutse is about 2 km long and the smallest one in Umla is about 500 feet long. Chewang’s efforts has led to a significant increase in the agricultural produce, which has in turn led to an increase in the income of villagers.
Chewang has once again reaffirmed the belief of people in the saying – “ Where there is a will, there is a way”.