National Geographic : 2010 Apr
Turkmenistan). In the future, peace between Pakistan and India may hinge as much on water as on nuclear weapons, for the two countries must share the glacier-dependent Indus. e biggest question mark hangs over China, which controls the sources of the region's major rivers. Its damming of the Mekong has sparked anger downstream in Indochina. If Beijing fol- lows through on tentative plans to divert the Brahmaputra, it could provoke its rival, India, in the very region where the two countries fought a war in 1962. For the people in Nehru Camp, geopoliti- cal concerns are lost in the frenzied pursuit of water. In the a ernoon, a tap outside the slum is suddenly turned on, and Chaya, smiling tri- umphantly, hauls back a full, ten-gallon jug on top of her head. e water is dirty and bitter, and there are no means to boil it. But now, at last, she can give her children their rst meal of the day: a piece of bread and a few spoonfuls of lentil stew. " ey should be studying, but we keep shooing them away to nd water," Chaya says. "We have no choice, because who knows if we'll nd enough water tomorrow." a natural response to forces that seem beyond our control. But Jia Son, the Tibetan farmer watching Mingyong Glacier shrink, believes that every action counts---good or bad, large or small. Pausing on the mountain trail, he makes a guilty confession. e melting ice, he says, may be his fault. When Jia Son rst noticed the rising temper- atures---an unfamiliar trickle of sweat down his back about a decade ago---he gured it was a gi from the gods. Winter soon lost some of its brutal sting. e glacier began releasing its water earlier in the summer, and for the rst time in memory villagers had the luxury of two harvests a year. en came the Chinese tourists, a ood of city dwellers willing to pay locals to take them up to see the glacier. e Han tourists don't always respect Buddhist traditions; in their gleeful hol- lers to provoke an icefall, they seem unaware of the calamity that has befallen the glacier. Still, they have turned a poor village into one of the region's wealthiest. "Life is much easier now," says Jia Son, whose simple farmhouse, like all in the village, has a television and government- subsidized satellite dish. "But maybe our greed has made Kawagebo angry." He is referring to the temperamental deity above his village. One of the holiest mountains in Tibetan Buddhism, Kawagebo has never been conquered, and locals believe its summit---and its glacier---should remain untouched. When a Sino-Japanese expedition tried to scale the peak in 1991, an avalanche near the top of the glacier killed all 17 climbers. Jia Son remains convinced the deaths were not an accident but an act of divine retribution. Could Mingyong's retreat be another sign of Kawagebo's displeasure? Jia Son is taking no chances. Every year he embarks on a 15-day pilgrimage around Kawagebo to show his deepening Buddhist devotion. He no longer hunts animals or cuts down trees. As part of a government program, he has also given up a parcel of land to be refor- ested. His family still participates in the village's tourism cooperative, but Jia Son makes a point of telling visitors about the glacier's spiritual signi cance. "Nothing will get better," he says, "until we get rid of our materialistic thinking." It's a simple pledge, perhaps, one that hardly seems enough to save the glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau---and stave off the water crisis that seems sure to follow. But here, in the shadow of one of the world's fastest retreating glaciers, this lone farmer has begun, in his own small way, to restore the balance. j "We wake up every morning ghting over water, " says Kamal Bhate of Nehru Camp in Delhi. e brawls can be deadly. In a nearby slum a teenage boy was recently beaten to death for cutting in line.