Credit: Ellen Fällström

Working for a sustainable future at LEDeG

Essays 27.04.2023

Sofia Linna and Ellen Fällström are currently doing an internship with the Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LEDeG) in Ladakh, India. This internship was possible thanks to the Swedish network Future Earth. 

During our internship at LEDeG, we got to see what a grassroots organisation working on sustainability can achieve in the long run. After two months in Ladakh, we have learned that it is through the continuity of projects, relationships with people and the government that real change can be made.

LEDeG has for the past 40 years promoted sustainable development in the region of Ladakh, located in the North Indian Himalayas. Ladakh and its people have seen a change in the region’s climate and demography since the region opened up for tourism in 1974. Increased influences from the West, consumerism and tourism resulted in a need to import foods, goods and labour to Ladakh. The region could no longer sustain itself.

The organisation received the Right Livelihood Award in 1986 for their work preserving and promoting traditional Ladakhi culture. Since then, the organisation has aimed to promote sustainable development in Ladakh that respects Ladakhi culture and provides a better life for its people.

Up until recently, LEDeG mainly worked on projects in rural areas. There has now been a shift to explore urban projects that will help make the region’s capital Leh, and Ladakh as a whole, an ecological destination that in a way provides a sustainable livelihood for the Ladakhi people.

In rural areas, the projects focus on providing remote villagers with appropriate technology, such as passive solar-powered housing, constructing artificial glaciers and organising training in traditional handicrafts. These initiatives make the villages more independent and more resilient to climate change. 

The shift to urban issues mainly addresses issues in the region’s capital Leh. The city receives a large amount of tourists during the summer, which causes stress on the sanitation system and produces a larger amount of waste. On previously fertile soil, new hotels are constructed to house tourists.

The climate in the winter is cold, dry and mostly sunny. During the night, the temperature can drop to minus 15 degrees Celsius. During the winter, most work on site, as well as in the fields, is on hold due to the harsh climate. Several schools close down completely from November to March. 

When the road to Nubra Valley through the mighty Khardung La pass opened up, we travelled with a photographer working at LEDeG, Stanzin Tundup, to visit and document villages where LEDeG has contributed to various projects. As such, we got to experience first-hand how LEDeG’s projects have affected and helped many people get access to cheap and warm housing. 

In the village Ayee, LEDeG has recently assisted with knowledge and technology such as pipes for the construction of an artificial glacier. Ayee has access to spring water, a crucial factor for artificial glaciers as they are built up over time in winter without external energy. The glaciers are built in the winter by channelling freshwater through a pipe. Water is pumped through holes in the pipe and freezes when temperatures drop, creating an artificial glacier. When temperatures rise in spring, the sun warms the glacier, slowly melting the ice.

Credit: Linnea Sterlinger Agerstig

Successful artificial glaciers contribute with freshwater for spring farming, ideally melting slowly over the late spring months. However, artificial glaciers are not a solution to the changing climate in Ladakh, with melting natural glaciers and scarcity of freshwater. It is only an aid to a pressing situation. 

LEDeG cooperates with other local organisations in Ladakh. When such organisations cooperate and work toward their goals, real change can be made. This bottom-up mentality, where change emerges locally, is important to acknowledge. Local actors have great insight into the specific needs of the people, towns and villages outside urban areas. Their work often directly improves local issues, and the projects are implemented on the ground. This is something that we saw in action thanks to our time with LEDeG.

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