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A Stupa sits below the Sultan Largo Glacier in the village of Kumik in Zanskar, Kashmir. The glacier is the village’s sole source of water. Like many Himalayan glaciers, Sultan Largo is also receding due to global warming and soot generated due to extensive combustion of diesel fuel, wood and coal in India and China. The Himalayan glaciers contain the largest store of water outside the polar ice caps and feed seven large Asian rivers supporting 1.5 billion people across eight countries. Data and understanding of impact of climate change and soot on the Himalayan Glaciers is limited due to lack of studies. Media reporting on the issue from the region also appears to be intermittent and sparse.

A Stupa sits below the Sultan Largo Glacier in the village of Kumik in Zanskar, Kashmir. The glacier is the village’s sole source of water. Like many Himalayan glaciers, Sultan Largo is also receding due to global warming and soot generated due to extensive combustion of diesel fuel, wood and coal in India and China. The Himalayan glaciers contain the largest store of water outside the polar ice caps and feed seven large Asian rivers supporting 1.5 billion people across eight countries. Data and understanding of impact of climate change and soot on the Himalayan Glaciers is limited due to lack of studies. Media reporting on the issue from the region also appears to be intermittent and sparse.

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At 12,500 feet, on the “Roof of the World,” 35 families fight to survive climate change in Kumik, a village so tiny it doesn’t appear on government maps of India. Although the villagers do not understand how or why the glacier that is their sole source of water is disappearing, they do know that that their traditional life of self-sustenance is in peril and that they must adapt in order to survive.

In Summer 2015, I lived with the Thinleys, a local family, to document life in Kumik amidst a decade-long water crisis. I was struck by the unfair irony that this village, with its small carbon footprint, was forced to suffer the consequences of climate change. For over a millennium, the Kumikpas - the people of Kumik - have made a living by farming the high-glacial valley in the Zanskar Range. The Zanskar region, formerly a part of western Tibet, is a remote mountainous area in Indian-administered Kashmir that remains isolated from the world except in summer. The only winter ‘“road” into and out of the valley is the frozen Zanskar River. Villagers must trek over 100 km on the frozen Zanskar River, in sub-zero temperatures, to get medical attention or to trade. 

The village of Kumik, as well as its pastures and farms, sit below the fast-receding Sultan Largo glacier. In recent years, many men and teenage boys in the village have moved away for employment or education. In summer, women and children fetch water from the village’s one trickling Kumikthu stream, and are able to irrigate only a portion of their farmland. A severe drought in 2003 forced many villagers to sell most of their livestock. And rising winter temperatures means the Zanskar River - the winter “road” - no longer freezes solid and has become treacherous to cross.

The migration of boys and men of the village has significantly impacted women, who now have to perform the primary tasks of securing water, farming, livestock rearing and fuel gathering, apart from taking care of their families. Climate change is not only impeding these women’s ability to achieve their own human rights but also exacerbating gender inequity.  

People in the Kumik are Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhists of Tibetan-Mon ethnic origin. People of Zanskar Region have remained isolated from the world for centuries and have lived in an autarky. Over the centuries, Zanskar has had zero population growth due to the traditional practice of polyandrous marriage.

With the impending climate crisis, villagers face the prospect of abandoning both villages and moving to a city, while leaving behind their millennium-old culture and heritage. Having lived in isolation from the world, most women, children and the elderly lack the language, social and vocational skills to adapt to mainstream society. Climate change is marginalizing the right to survival, self-determination and culture of not only the Kumikpas but also many such communities around the world. In 2015, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling climate change the most serious modern day challenge to the fulfillment of human rights.

 After years of drought, in 2001, the village of Kumik in Zanskar, Kashmir officially decided to abandon their millennium old village and relocate. While many agreed to the relocation, several families resisted abandoning their centuries old home because they feared losing their “tangible” and “intangible” heritage. Climate change is putting at risk the deep-rooted cultural identity of the villagers, which is intimately linked to the tangible and intangible heritage of the village. Some of the village elders have refused to relocate to the new village due to the strong spiritual connection they feel toward the millennium old village.

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In 2001, after an earlier drought, the Kumikpas made a decision to relocate near the Tsarap River. By 2014, seven families had relocated to the new village and begun farming. Creating a new village was a herculean feat. Villagers manually built houses, created new fields and dug canals while also tending to their animals and farms in the old village. But a devastating flood in 2015 destroyed the water canals and farmland, leaving the new village without a source of water or food.

The migration of boys and men of the village has significantly impacted women, who now have to perform the primary tasks of securing water, farming, livestock rearing and fuel gathering, apart from taking care of their families. Climate change is not only impeding these women’s ability to achieve their own human rights but also exacerbating gender inequity.  

With the impending climate crisis, villagers face the prospect of abandoning both villages and moving to a city, while leaving behind their millennium-old culture and heritage. Having lived in isolation from the world, most women, children and the elderly lack the language, social and vocational skills to adapt to mainstream society. 

Global warming is changing the Himalayas faster than any other region of the world outside the polar caps. Reporting this story is critical because in the near future, countless women across the Himalayan watersheds will face the challenges women in Kumik face.

Traditionally, climate change reporting has used journalistic frames such as “Arctic melt,” “endangered natural world” and “blue planet,” to name a few. I hope to advance those frames by bringing attention on the impact of climate change on women in a politically unstable part of the developing world. In doing so, it will also bring attention to the impending climate refugee crisis in the Himalayan watersheds across in Asia in which women and children are likely to be impacted the most.

In 2015, this body of work began as a two phase project ­– researching the journalistic framing of climate change in the US media and documenting the impact of climate change on a region significantly impacted by climate change outside the two poles. The Correspondents’ Reporting Grant, Richard Oliver Scholarship, and O. O. McIntyre Fellowship awarded by the Missouri School of Journalism funded this project.