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The Himalayan Water Crisis

In some areas of the world, glaciers are a life source. Water freezes solid during the winter and slowly melts throughout the rest of the year.
For centuries, the glacial water provided life to the people living in and around the Himalayas.

The water stayed frozen in the cone-shaped glaciers for tens of thousands of years. However, Climate changes lead to the loss of over 40% of the glaciated area leaving the life in and around the Himalayas in a huge water crisis.

More than sufficient amounts of water melt during January and February. But come April and May, surrounding villages are desperate for water.
Sonam Wangchuk created a genius system to buy villages time to adapt to these changes. He created ice stupas.

An ice stupa is made up of frozen excess water that melted during winter. The water piles into a cone-shaped structure and slowly melts precisely around the time people experience water shortages in the affected areas.

The natural shape of a glacier is key.

The bits of ice caps that melted provided life, but now that ice caps are disappearing, the glaciers cone structure is gone, and that presents a huge problem.

A cone is one of the few shapes that have the least amount of surface area considering its volume. When the sun beats down on a cone structure, less water melts at a time. The less surface area, the slower water will melt.

A capless glacier is flat leaving a larger surface area of ice exposed to the sun. More water melts and eventually all life around it becomes thirsty throughout the year.
Climate changes disrupted this process, and the caps of our earth’s glaciers continue to flatten.

Hardly any rainfall.

A village in the Himalayan mountains sets camp on land that gets 50 millimeters of rainfall a year. Because they hardly get rain, they need melted glacial water to survive.

How it works

The ice stupa takes the melted glacial water and channels it into underground pipes. Pressure builds up in the pipes.

When the winter day turns to night, and the water is below 30 degrees Celsius. The pressure is applied to the water, and the water sprays out onto a mound of tree branches stacked to mimic the shape of a glacier.

When water sprays out into droplets, it loses its heat and is easier to freeze.


The sprayed water freezes in the shape of the ice stupa, and the process repeats every winter night. Some ice stupas freeze more than 30 million liters of water which is enough to last a village well into spring.

A temporary solution.

Ice stupas substitute the function of the glaciers. Although they may seem like a solution to the issue at large, Ice stupas are actually jus ta band-aid to a much more complex issue. Pollution is more than likely the reason why ice caps are melting in the first place. Once we heal our planet, ice stupas won’t be needed.

How we can make a difference.

He founded a school in 1988 to teach his ways and pass down the knowledge. In a few years, his students will be the ones responsible for constructing stupas.

Wangchuk says that if big city people live simply, others can simply live. His statement refers to the excess lifestyles in large cities. They harm the environment and eventually lead to the destruction of life somewhere far far away. That’s why he emphasizes the fact that people should be sensitive to such matters.

Wangchuk emphasizes he’s not found a solution to climate changes, but he’s found a way to buy time for people to adapt to the climate changes.