Unpredictable Lifelines

Verses of prayers reverberate throughout the valley as men sing and climb mountains to ensure their village has water in the summer. People from Khadra, Akpa and Rarang village trek for 27 km to reach Pangi top and clear the path of the artificial stream - Kashang nahar to let the water flow freely towards their villages. Generations ago many streams flowed towards the foothills but now only a few remain and Kashang Nahar is the only reliable source. Completed in 2005 this canal is helping the local villages meet their demand for water.

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Kashang nahar; Photo courtesy: Yowan Negi, village Rarang

Khadra, Akpa and Rarang, villages at 8000ft of Moorang tehsil, fall in the semi-arid region of Kinnaur district in Himachal Pradesh and rely mainly on glacial melt for their water needs. Though over the past few decades things are changing. As the climate is getting warmer, precipitation (rains and snowfall) is getting erratic. With each passing winter the glacier is unable to recover due to reducing snowfall trends. This is not only reducing the water availability during summers to the villages dependent on them but also leading to glacial instability. This phenomenon is already bringing grave consequences to the communities living in the mountains as was observed in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. A glacier collapsed and released a ton of water and energy which destroyed everything that was in its path.

During monsoons, flash floods and landslides are increasing and becoming more frequent by each passing year, adding to the woes of the communities. A few years back, in my village of Khadra and the nearby villages of Akpa and Rarang, a major landslide washed away many agricultural fields leading to loss of acres of productive land. This year we faced a severe heat wave which led to fires in our forests. As Deodar and Chilgoza trees around us burned and fell and the wild species fled, we felt so helpless as the water in Kashang nahar fell short. Some of us collected the water at the base of the nahar and managed to save a few trees. But a lot of the damage had already been done. Each year we are caught up in a dichotomy of drought and heavy devastating rains and we don't know what we should prepare for.

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Forest fires in Akpa & Jangi forest; Photo courtesy: Heer Chander, village Jangi

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Aftermath; Photo courtesy: Sunder Negi

Development based on destruction

Himachal Pradesh, being a mountainous and river rich state, is known for its potential to generate hydro power. However that is coming at a cost to the communities. Villages and community forests are sanctioned under different projects to either be submerged or cleared off for the development. Around our village we have two hydro power plants - Tidong (150 MW) & Kashang Integrated (243MW) under construction and one mega project - Jangi Thopan of 804 MW is proposed. Kashang integrated project has plans to divert the Kashang nahar to meet its production needs. These projects are hindering the flow of our already distressed rivers and causing long term implications towards the health of the ecosystems and communities dependent on them. We have always opposed such mega developments and will continue to oppose them. 

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Photo courtesy: statkraft.in

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Integrated Kashang Hydroelectricity Project, HP, India; Photo courtesy: ejatlas.org

Science and spirituality

To our communities, water means much more than a resource. Our ancestors have revered and protected the resource not just for themselves but for the generations to come. And today we continue to reap the benefits. Even today elders in the village guide us with ways to protect the water and thank the spiritual beings for their benevolence.  Every time we go to the source of a natural spring, we recite Naaga Chhonme, an ode to nature thanking her for the abundance of resources. It is deep rooted in our basic nature to feel connected to the forests, streams, rivers, mountains and we treat them as living being.

As much as spirituality is important to help us stay grounded and connected to our land and water we are also focusing on taking informed decisions to monitor and manage our resources based on scientific tools at our disposal. In early June this year, the youth of the 7 village clubs- Spillow, Kanam, Moorang, Jangi, Akpa, Rarang and Khadra, organised and attended a workshop conducted by Himdhara and People Science Institute on long-term monitoring of the health of the streams around our village. It was a 3-day workshop and we explored various themes around water including topics of development, climate change and its impact on our hydro and ecosystems. With the help of the Open Foris Collect, a mobile application, the youth have already started recording their readings of our streams. 

Climate change is a problem that we cannot solve at our village level. In the coming few years, the negative impact of climate change will only worsen and all we can do is prepare for the challenges we are to face. What we can do as a community is to raise awareness, write about the issues and continue to engage people in action towards climate change.

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River monitoring workshop; Photo courtesy: Sunder Negi

About the Author

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Sunder Negi

Sunder Negi is from Khadra village. An engineer by education, he is currently involved in horticulture and agricultural activities in his village. He is very passionate about environmental action and justice and believes climate change is directly affecting the life of mountain human and non-human communities.