Winter Water Crisis

Kumik, the Himalayan village in the Zanskar Valley on the forefront of climate change in a Himalayan winter

Four years ago, in 2016, I travelled to the village of Kumik to document their story and ongoing struggle with water and drought. The story told first in 'The Waterless Village' I. As 2019 came to a close, I once again, travelled to see my friends in Kumik but this time in the vastly different context of the bone-chilling Himalayan winter. Water once again was the primary cause for concern. 


The Himalayas have long been labelled as the planets 'Third Pole', as the highest mountain range contains the largest stores of ice outside the Polar regions. The immense rugged expanse provides water supplies to over 1.4 billion people across Asia from the glacial meltwater during summer. These, at some points, trickles of water create some of the worlds longest and largest rivers such as the Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra,  Yangtze and Mekong rivers that carve through the highest point on the planet down to the tropical equatorial regions of Asia crossing several nations. 


Over recent decades, climate change and in turn warming temperatures have dramatically impacted the Himalayan region. Decreased snowfalls over winter combined with hotter and longer summers threaten the vast water supply. The height of the mountain range provides no respite from the onslaught of warming temperatures and ironically the Himalayas are experiencing the fastest warming trends on the planet outside of the Arctic. 


The village of Kumik is at the forefront of this change, as the glacier behind the village progressively disappeared over recent decades. With the glacier no longer providing water, snowmelt from the winter is the villages primary source of water during the Summer months to recharge the underground springs. Upon returning in winter, Kumik is left with all but one spring that is unfrozen, which is shared by both people and livestock. Many remain unsure, as opposed to 2016, to relocate to the new village of Lower Kumik or not where they would be closer to the Zanskar River. Some are still there, but also many in Kumik remain afraid for cultural reasons and the idea of 'this is home' pulls heavy on their hearts. 


Each day, whether winter or summer or in between, is a battle. Survival and life as we know it on the roof of the world are undergoing unprecedented environmental and social change. Kumik's story continues to be written. 

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Ashley Crowther is an Asia based documentary photographer and photojournalist and is one of the foremost storytellers documenting climate change through photography.


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