The Waterless Village

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

Stories told over centuries follows the tale of the Zbalu, a fairy that struck a deal with the village of Kumik in the Zanskar Valley in the Indian Himalayan region. Water or a wall surrounding the Kumik to protect their livestock from wolves. These were the choices the Zbalu gave them. The glacier behind Kumik with its seemingly endless supply of water gave the villagers all they needed. They chose the wall. 


Stone by stone was laid down for the wall by the Zbalu. He was exhausted, but no villagers offered him food or drink. Furious and vengeful, the fairy cast a curse on Kumik saying they will run out of water one day. 


The folklore tale, after centuries, has manifested into reality for Kumik in the form of warning temperatures from climate change. The glacier that once gave the village water has fully retreated to the top of the mountain. No longer providing water to Kumik, they are now reliant on a small spring that recharges by winter snowmelt, which is also in decline. Now facing an ongoing drought that is getting worse as each year passes has led to dwindling crop harvests affecting food, incomes and livestock. 


Facing water shortages, Kumik as a community began an independent relocation of the village to the valley floor to access water from the large Zanskar River. They built a canal that brought water to the new village of 'Lower Kumik', enabling villagers to transform barren land to farmland. But devastation followed celebration as a glacial lake outburst upstream caused a flood, washing away the canal. Unable to afford to build another canal, only a handful of homes relocated and now both water stricken villages continue to face an uncertain future.

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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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