Design for Autonomy: Water Resources in Ladakh

Design for Autonomy: Water Resources in Ladakh

Carey Clouse (University of Massachusetts – Amherst, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0094-0.ch013
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This chapter describes one series of climate-adaptive design innovations found in Ladakh, north India. Five different water management techniques chart the region's unique and highly specialized response to water scarcity, and in so doing highlight important lessons for climate-adaptive planning elsewhere. In this case study, the dispersed, community-based water management strategies practiced in Ladakh suggest a level of design thinking that supports environmental stewardship, economic autonomy, cultural consciousness and social cohesion.
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Ladakh: Climate And Context

Located within the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in the rain shadow of north India’s Himalayan range, Ladakh is a rugged and dry mountain region. Environmental conditions could be considered both extreme and inhospitable, characterized by high altitude, low humidity, and extremely low precipitation. The region is referred to as a cold desert environment, with temperature fluctuations that range from -40C to 35C and scarce rainfall, between 50 and 300mm annually (Bhasin, 1992; Demenge, 2007).

Ladakh’s mountainous terrain is sparsely populated, containing some of the highest inhabited villages on earth (Norberg-Hodge, 2000). More than fifty villages exist in the region, supporting populations of 100 to 1,500 people (District Statistics & Evaluation Office, 2013). Moreover, the trans-Himalayan mountain range has effectively cut the region off from the southern portion of the subcontinent, where the “forbidding climate, remoteness and inaccessibility (has) kept Ladakh isolated, except for traders, for centuries” (Mann, 1986, 3).

In this challenging environment, strong social and cultural traditions have effectively tethered people to the land, and to each other. According to scholar R.S. Mann, Ladakhi “people feel that their adaptation (to climate) alone made them survive whenever nature posed threat (sic) to their existence” (Mann, 1986, vi). While humans have effectively and sustainably flourished in this region for more than one thousand years, existing environmental pressures, coupled with unstable weather patterns caused by a warming climate, have brought about changes to age-old patterns of living in recent years (Mingle, 2015; Rizvi, 1998).

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