In Conversation with Women of Chicham
This article is a converstation led by Tanzin Dawa with Ane Dikit Lamo & Padma Norzom
Tanzin Dawa: Julley Ache! I am here to inquire a bit about water problems in Spiti, especially in Chicham village. From your experience, can you share some insights on how it is impacting local livelihood and animals alike?
Dikit Lamo: Julley to everyone! To talk about water scarcity in my village, I will have to compare it with older times – the tales of heavy snowfall my grandparents used to narrate to me and my own experiences of growing up here in Spiti
Earlier there used to be a lot of chu-char (rain and snow). It was so intense that clearing snow was a huge task! Our mountain tops were covered with snow throughout the year. We used to have a good reserve of glacial melt in our village mountains which became the prime source of water for villages at higher elevation like Chicham, Kibber, Langza, Komic and Hikkim.
Chicham Village; Photo courtesy: Tanvi Dutta
Tanzin Dawa: How has it changed?
Dikit Lamo: We have been experiencing extremely erratic weather conditions these days. I am 40 now and from my experience, I think it is due to changing weather patterns. We used to have snowfall that levelled our houses and had to clear it with the help of our neighbours! Such was time. There’s lushful greenery in our barley fields and our harvests were abundant. In our village, Chu-mik (spring water) gushed with fresh water - we got to choose from myriad streams flowing around – cold, sweet water to drink while farming. From the past 10 years, there’s been a considerable decrease in precipitation. We used to look up at the sky in hope for rain but to no avail. This year was particularly unexpected. There was very little snowfall during winter and we were even unsure whether we would even get to till our land when summer arrives. We, somehow, adjusted to the difficult situation by either carrying a water tanker to our fields and initiating the seeding work. It worsened as months passed by, we had to leave many of our fields half irrigated or completely fallow. There’s no hope for crops this year.
Barren fields and dried reservoir; Photo courtesy: Chhunit Kesang
Tanzin Dawa: How has it impacted livestock and wild animals?
Dikit Lamo: Chicham pasture is known for its greenery and abundant water sources. Our Yaks and Dri (female yak) spend several months in wild areas without tending them. But this year water has been so scarce that it has become difficult for our animals too. They frequently come to the village area and drink water from the only pipe water we have. Animals and people both are suffering. We also have to line up for hours to fetch water for our home and sometimes that ends bitterly with fights among locals for water. The days are so hot that I used to keep water in a bowl for the birds. When we bring our livestock in the evening after grazing, we immediately place a bucket full of water for them as they look so parched. You just know. You can sense it.
Domesticated Yaks; Photo courtesy: Unknown
Tanzin Dawa: What do you think is the cause for such changes?
Dikit Lamo: I think it is due to changing weather patterns. They say it is called global warming in English and has to do with plastic usage. I am not sure how it is interrelated and how it impacts our fields here in Spiti but I do believe it. I think about it a lot and think of avoiding plastic usage on my level. But will it make a difference on a larger level? I think collective action is needed. To ensure timely snowfall, we have to revive our traditional ways of living. Rituals are performed according to an astrologically and agriculturally influenced calendar and we have to bring back those traditions and belief systems. We also think about our children’s generation and preserve our natural resources. Tourism has also impacted the way we channel our resources. It is getting extremely rampant nowadays. We have to devise an internal resource and waste management system to reduce impact on nature. I think plantations will be beneficial in desert areas like ours. I hope that will reduce the effect of global warming and our fields begin to blossom again and our kuls brimming fresh snow water.
Padma Norzom: Water situation? It is scarce everywhere this year. In Chicham, even drinking water is getting difficult for us. Our barley and green peas field are all drying up before harvest season due to receding water in our kuls. There was just no water for irrigation and we are forced to abandon our fields. Because of declining water sources, our land, soil, pasture is all drying up and forage availability and grazing system is also impacted.
Dried water canal in Chicham
Tanzin Dawa: Was it the same last year?
Padma Norzom : It used to be enough to sustain our farm work and to feed our cattle but this year has been unfortunate. There was no snowfall during winter and all our spring waters dried up. My jersey cow also looks very weak and without adequate water to drink, milk production has become very less. I stopped selling milk this year. Livestock feeding and water intake behaviours are also negatively impacted and when sent out in the wild for grazing, they gallop towards greener pastures!
Tanzin Dawa: How do we resolve this? Is there a way we can utilise water from the Spiti river?
Padma Norzom : Yes, river water can certainly be channelled but it will be a bit strenuous and resource intensive as it is located far from the village area. If the government can help us, it will be a huge blessing. Some farmers have tried irrigating their green pea fields with generators. But the diesel operated generators turned out very expensive and it was simply not feasible for small farmers like us who also spent a lot of money buying green pea seeds. The cost will come in lakhs – all for nothing without water.
Photo courtesy: Tanvi Dutta
About the Author
Tanzin dawa is from Chicham village and she initiated the conversation about water scarcity in her village with other women revealing bleak reality in Spiti this year.
Dikit Lamo is from Chicham village and has been farming for over 20 years. Listen to the recorded interview in Spitian language.
Padma Norzom is from Chicham village. Listen to the recorded interview in Spitian language.