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In surprising ways, a Himalayan village adapts to a changing climate

November 29, 2009

From The Boston Globe

In the village of Kumik, in a remote Himalayan valley of northwest India known as Zanskar, people have an old saying, “Kha Kumik, chu Shila” – the snow falls above Kumik, but the water goes to Shila, a nearby settlement. Intoned with a rhythmic staccato, these six syllables elicit laughs of recognition from most Zanskaris. “Isn’t that life for you?”

Residents of Kumik laugh, too, but more ruefully of late. The people of the village, known as Kumikpas, are mostly subsistence farmers, dependent on seasonal meltwater from snowfields and a small glacier at the top of the valley. But in the last several years, Kumik has experienced a drought of unprecedented severity. Due to changing weather patterns, the snow falls above Kumik less often every year. The glacier, once a blanket over the head of the valley, is now a small cap on the mountaintop. Springs have gotten warmer, melting much of the snow before the short growing season begins in June.

In the developed world, the global conversation about climate change is often framed in vaguely terrifying abstractions – reams of dire scientific data, photos of calved icebergs, charts of sea level rise, extrapolations of drought. The Kumikpas face a situation far more immediate and concrete. The decline in late-summer water flow has caused entire harvests to fail, raising the specter of a permanent food crisis.

The Kumikpas have responded to their conditions accordingly, in swift, decisive, and far-seeing ways. Without access to sophisticated environmental data, they have decided to make difficult changes in the way they live. They have not only adapted to the drought, but also claimed some measure of responsibility for it.

As the long-anticipated Copenhagen summit on climate change gets underway next week, with negotiators for 192 nations working to hammer out a rough consensus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow atmospheric warming, a parallel concern is growing among policymakers: how to adapt to the environmental and climatic disturbances that are coming, whether we like it or not. In industrialized countries, the effort to cope with the emerging effects of climate change is just beginning. As dramatic changes start to hit places like Kumik, however, the effort has already started to shape their lives. The inhabitants’ experience offers not only an early look at the kind of disruption likely to arrive in many other communities, but also some surprising lessons in human resilience.

Ishay Paldan, a lean man with a weathered face that crinkles easily into a smile, has been living and farming in Kumik for more than 80 years. Over a simple meal of kholak – a mixture of roasted barley flour and butter tea boiled on his dung-fired stove – he explained Kumik’s situation in incongruously upbeat tones. “When I was a child,” he said, “there were no problems with water. The glacier was much bigger.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. bosse broström permalink
    December 9, 2009 5:13 pm

    Is this article cut in the middle … ? Some brief statements on that these people adapt. But no facts whatsoever on HOW they do this.
    Leaves you with the feeling of someone promising information on something and then just stopping bofore any information is given.

    • RS permalink*
      December 10, 2009 3:53 am

      Please click the link to the Boston Globe for the full article. We publish only the first part of the article for space reasons. The full article is always linked – “From __(link)___”

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