‘One’ idea can make the critical difference

Hello everyone! It’s easy to look at the problem, but how many of us are determined to find the solution, despite all odds. Ideas that make an impact are often implemented in the face of tremendous odds by people who refuse to give up. This story talks about one such person and his story.

one idea can make the critical differenceChewang Norphel hails from Skarra village, 2.5 kms away from Leh in Ladakh. All 100 families of his village have traditionally been subsistence farmers, cultivating wheat, barley, mustard and peas. Ladakh’s melting snows generate millions of gallons of water. But as it flows into the mountain streams too late in the year, most of the water goes waste. Cultivation is limited to the extremely short season of spring and summer warmth. Spring arrives in April but by the time the great Himalayan glaciers melt to fill the mountain streams, it is June.

Ladakhi farmers need water in April to first moisten the dry, winter chapped fields. Then they can plough and plant the seeds. And then in June, the fields can be watered by the gurgling mountain streams. Except there is no water in April because the glaciers are still frozen. This predicament trapped the villagers in a perennial cycle of poverty.

One time in 1987, Norphel was watching the water drip to the ground from the lone village tap. The tap had to be kept open in winter to let the water flow through so that it did not freeze and burst the pipe. So the water dripped away, wasting into the earth, forming a large pool that became a sheet of ice in winter. That’s how Norphel hit upon his simple but brilliant idea of a man-made glacier to store the plentiful water from the melted snow someplace close to the village all through summer and autumn so that it could form a glacier in winter. That would then melt in spring to provide the much needed water for the villagers at the right time.

Norphel put all the knowledge gained from his Civil engineering diploma course, local work experience and meager resources to translate his idea into action on a trial basis in water-starved Phutse village, 80 kms from Skarra. He designed the reservoirs in a series of steppe formations, locating them in mountain shade so that the water would remain frozen in winter to form large glaciers. From the glacier, feeder canals took the water back to the natural mountain streams that irrigated the villages.

Norphel’s low cost glaciers turned out to be an ingenious way of solving a perennial problem. The Phutse glacier cost a meager Rs.90,000.

As a government servant, Norphel could not change the world or even his state. But he changed his local environment, using whatever little expertise and resources he had. He wanted to use his position, education, skills and experience to improve the lives of the people around him. As a civil engineer, he built tanks, bridges, irrigation canals and other public works that have made life easier for the local inhabitants. During his career, he built over 300 canals, some of them in tough, stony terrain comprising of vertical rocks, to irrigate 20,000 acres and benefiting 75% of Leh’s 117,000 inhabitants.

Source:,  Jan 2, 2013