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The World's Highest Village is Running Out of Water

2017-8-8

The highest village in the world is running out of water.

Komik sits at 4,587 meters high in the Spiti Valley of India. It can only be reached during the summer by small roads winding around the Himalaya mountains.

During the winter, temperatures can drop to 30 degrees Celsius below zero. The village is also cut off from the rest of India for six months of the year when snowfall blocks mountain passes. There is almost no phone and internet connectivity.

"We are used to being in a remote place. We have our traditional ways of living," said 32-year-old farmer Nawang Phunchok. "But these days the water is not coming like it used to. We see there is less water than before."

Water shortage across India

According to the World Resources Institute, India is facing a water crisis. More than half of the country's water wells have recorded a drop in water levels in the last 10 years. Up to 80 percent of rivers, lakes, ponds and streams are polluted with human waste and sewage.

Residents of Komik village, one of the highest villages in the world, tie bundles of a local scrub together in their village located in Spiti Valley in India's northern state of Himachal Pradesh, July 5, 2017..
Residents of Komik village, one of the highest villages in the world, tie bundles of a local scrub together in their village located in Spiti Valley in India's northern state of Himachal Pradesh, July 5, 2017..

Climate change is only making the problems worse.

Overall rainfall in the last century has not been stable, and the annual average temperature has risen by 0.5 degrees Celsius, says India's meteorological department.

"There exists a huge knowledge gap regarding the connection between water scarcity and climate change. There is an immediate need to fill this gap and make people aware about the importance of water conservation," said WaterAid India's Puneet Srivastava.

Srivastava also said the government needs better methods to regulate and monitor how groundwater resources are used.

These issues create risks to food security, which affects around 200 million farm workers in the region.

Thousands of farmers have committed suicide over the last 10 years, as drought combined with lower global food prices have hurt farm incomes.

Recently, authorities have tried to better support farmers. Some measures include providing insurance for crop failures, providing farmers with drought-resistant seeds, and a $3 billion project to clean up the Ganges, India's largest and most sacred river.

Environmental experts say, however, that more focus is put on supporting India's plains, which have higher concentration of farms and people, than on remote regions like the Himalayas.

At 4,587 meters (15,050 feet), Komik village - located in Spiti Valley in India's northern state of Himachal Pradesh state - is one of the world's highest human settlements with a road, July 4, 2017..
At 4,587 meters (15,050 feet), Komik village - located in Spiti Valley in India's northern state of Himachal Pradesh state - is one of the world's highest human settlements with a road, July 4, 2017..

Less water from melting glaciers

A 2014 study by Jawaharlal Nehru University said that annual temperatures in the Indian Himalayas rose by up to 2 degrees Celsius over 20 years. The study also said the glaciers have reduced by 13 percent over the past 50 years.

Arun Sharma, a senior government official in Spiti, said, "There is no doubt there is a big water crisis here. We've put in place a lot of projects such as providing water tanks and constructing water catchment areas, but we are limited by the weather. For six months of the year, life stops as we are snowbound and we cannot do any major work."

Experts say that changes in weather affect not only the food, water and energy security of the people living in Himalayan villages. It also affects over one billion other people living across Asia who depend on rivers such as the Yangtze, Ganges and Mekong.

The melting snow and ice from the Himalayas feed these rivers and the streams and springs around Spiti Valley.

Unlike other parts of India, where there are two farming seasons to plant and harvest crops, Spiti only has one farming season. This creates problems for farmers if their plants die during the one season.

Ishita Khanna leads Ecosphere, an ecotourism company in Spiti Valley. She said there was not enough snowfall in the last two years and the springs all dried out in the valley.

"With the climate changing, this could be disastrous for people living here if this keeps happening. There should be more support for people and a deeper understanding of their way of life here. It's a very hard life."

I’m Phil Dierking.

Nita Bhalla reported this story for Reuters. Phil Dierking adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

winding - adj. curving

challenge - n. to test the ability, skill, or strength of (someone or something)

drought - n. a long period of time during which there is very little or no rain

glacier - n. a very large area of ice that moves slowly down a slope or valley or over a wide area of land

irrigation - n. to supply (something, such as land) with water by using artificial means (such as pipes)

remote - n. far away from other people, houses, cities, etc.

scarcity - n. a very small supply