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.
Since 2015, I have returned to Kumik thrice and lived with the Thinleys, a local family, to document life in Kumik amidst a decade-long water crisis. I am always 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.
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.
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.