Climate change is making it tougher, especially for women, to live in the Miyar valley in the high Himalayas
All photos by Sucharita Sen.
Located in the North Western tip of Himachal Pradesh, the Miyar valley is part of the dry Tibetan plateau. It’s an oasis in this cold desert, thanks to the Menthosa glacier. But it’s an oasis under threat, as the time of year when the glacier melt is at the maximum has been disturbed by climate change.
A team from the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University has been studying the effects of climate change in this remote region, as part of the Inter University Consortium on Cryosphere and Climate Change (IUCCC) for the project Himalayan Cryosphere and Climate Change: Science and Society, funded by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.
The author, a part of the team, clicked these photographs during a recent visit in connection with the study.
The Miyar valley.
Adaptation to a climate with snow cover for three to four months comes naturally to the residents. Greens and other food are dried and stored for the winter.
Fuel for heating and cooking is usually stored in the backyards or the roadside. Willows are grown for this purpose.
“It does not matter to us women whether it rains or snows at unexpected times,” says this resident of Miyar basin when asked about the effects of climate change. “We have to do most of the work irrespective of the weather conditions.”
Food is grown with water that flows through these glacier-fed channels, called kuhl. The melting of the snow is another crucial source of moisture in the soil. Till recently, the kuhls were made and managed completely through community action, with the division of labour shouldered equally by all cultivating households.
The rotation of water supply from a kuhl to individual farms is decided by a simple lottery – write numbers on bits of folded papers in one box and names of farmers in another box, and then pick from the two boxes. On the right is a close-up of the results. The list is written out by members of the Yuva Mandal, an organisation of men.
There are strong gender divisions despite the presence of a Mahila Mandal, an organisation of women. Members of the Mahila Mandal gather here to cook for a community festival. The JNU study team found one instance where the Mahila Mandal had taken a major decision – on how to use a degraded forest. Other tasks are extensions of domestic work, while members of the Yuva Mandal are meant to deal with “productive activities”, say the residents.
Over the last two decades, agriculture in the Miyar valley has moved to commercial crops, mainly peas and potatoes. All the peas that are grown are sold.
Women do most of the agricultural work, for their family farms and also as “exchange labour” in other farms. Rarely do they get any monetary wage.
Men, on the other hand, are engaged primarily in market transactions, as seen here, selling peas to contractors. Many of these men reported a decline in the yield of peas in the last five years or so. Some think one reason may be higher incidence of pests and diseases due to increased temperature.
In the Miyar valley, willow trees have been dying in large numbers. Some of the local men think it may be due to increased temperature. Most women say they have not thought about the reason.
Sucharita Sen is Executive Director of the South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies and a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views are personal.