What is the relationship between vanishing glaciers and women in cold deserts? The latter suffers most for the essential drinking water for her family.

According to UNICEF, women around the world spend a collective 200 million hours collecting water, and in Asia and Africa, women and girls walk an average of 3.7 miles each day gathering water. In a patriarchal society like India’s, women are the ones responsible for the household chores, among which is fetching water. It is difficult to maintain basic hygiene without sufficient water.

In the summer, women jerry cans from a small pond. In the winter, they climb further up the mountain and fill the cans from a different pond or a small pipe fitted beneath the rapidly-receding glacier on the mountain. The water dribbles slowly from the pipe, and it takes over 20 minutes to fill the jerry cans. After filling the cans they strap them onto her back and walk down the mountain, cautious of slippery stones that dot the path.

Carrying jerry cans and buckets of water over long distances generates back and posture problems for women. They suffer from pain in their feet and arms too. Once the temperature begins to dip below zero degrees, the water crisis deepens and women have to walk over a mile multiple times a day to fetch water. Some even have sold houses and moved away since water is no longer available even in nearby areas.

Even Zanskar and Spiti are facing an acute water shortage, which affects agriculture, tourism and life in general. And like any other water-scarce region, women suffer disproportionately.