Last month, the Department of Hydro-Met Services (DHMS) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) co-hosted a public seminar in Thimphu on the project for capacity development of glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) and rainstorm flood forecasting and early warning. It was the final seminar to share with the other line agencies, international organisations and NGOs, the information on the achievement of the three-year technical cooperation and facilitate knowledge exchange for more effective disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation measures.

The project targeted the capacity of the DHMS and other key stakeholders on emergency response against GLOF and rainstorm floods, with three project components. First, it has enhanced the capacity at the central level, including the strengthening of the weather and flood forecasting and warning functions of the National Weather and Flood Warning Centre.

Second, the project has worked for the development of early warning system in the two pilot basins of Mangdechhu and Chamkharchhu. The project team installed the automatic weather and water level stations at strategic points along the rivers.

Third, the project has worked on strengthening of the emergency response at the same target basins, connecting early warning system to community-based DRR, including evacuation drills.

In 2015, we have witnessed three milestone events in the global development arena, which would shape the world and the whole planet for the next 15 years.

First, the World Conference on DRR was convened in March in Sendai, Japan, where the UN member states agreed on the framework for DRR for 2015-2030. It set the goal as to “Prevent new and reduce existing disaster risk through the implementation of integrated and inclusive measures that prevent and reduce hazard exposure and vulnerability to disaster, increase preparedness for response and recovery, and thus strengthen resilience.”

Second, at the UN Summit for Sustainable Development in New York in September, the international community adopted the goal set to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. These Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, consist of 17 goals and 169 specific targets to be achieved by 2030.  While Goal 13 calls for urgent actions to combat climate change and its impacts, other goals also refer to the actions against climate-related disasters. For example, Target 1.5 writes, “By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters.”

Lastly, in December, the COP 21 of the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change was convened and the parties adopted the Paris Agreement to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, by the measures including the one that increases the ability to adapt to the adverse climate impacts and foster resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions.

More recently, the government of Bhutan has reiterated its commitment to the subject matters of all these agreements, as stated by foreign minister Damcho Dorji, at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul last May. In his statement, Lyonpo exemplified forest cover, hydropower development, access to clean and green electricity, and negative carbon emission as its proactive contribution to the global actions.

Now that the Paris Agreement set a global goal, JICA has recently drafted the corporate strategy on climate change to facilitate our communication and dialogues with the partner countries and other development partners.

It specifies four focus areas: urban development and infrastructure investments; comprehensive risk management; policy and institutional development; and conservation and management of forests and other ecosystems. It calls for integrating climate-related risks into any development planning and implementation as essential component of the project.

The project in Bhutan has been exemplified as one of the best practices implemented in line with the strategy, as it focused on climate risk assessment/prediction, early warning, development of coping capacity and facility in preparation for prompt actions in the events of emergency; and pre-investments in climate risk prevention and reduction.

But the DHMS/JICA project alone does not ensure the comprehensive picture of the efforts being made for climate adaptation. Currently, UNDP-GEF-funded NAPA II project has been implemented at the DHMS to upgrade and install 99 state-of-the-art weather stations by the end of 2016. It enables the department to generate real-time hydro-met data. With the automatic weather and water level stations installed by the JICA project along the two river basins, DHMS will cover all the basins of their strategic priority.

The climate impacts are clear and emerging. They are felt in every part of the world, affecting various aspects of human activities. This clearly indicates that the challenges ahead of us are so huge and the effort made by any single actor is not enough to tackle this gigantic issue. We need multi-stakeholder partnerships as described in the Sendai Framework, SDGs, and Paris Agreement, in order to stand up and face it.

These international agreements also indicate that the capacity of all the stakeholders is the focus of our future efforts for comprehensive risk management. It requires concerted efforts at various levels ranging from the community to the centre. Capacity is not only about hardware construction or installation, but it’s also a matter of human resources and institutions. I hope that the human resources and institutions our project intended to develop could work as strong complement to the initiatives taken by other development partners.

The project is coming to an end in September. But it’s the beginning of a long journey to sustain and scale up the project impact. The installed facilities must safeguard the lives and properties of the people who would otherwise be unprepared for the flood disasters.

Bhutan’s contribution to carbon neutral society is commendable. However, even if it’s making efforts on its own, climate-related disasters could be brought about by the conducts of others, mainly from outside the country.  We must also be aware that the efforts to be made in our home countries for controlling CO2 emission would mitigate the devastating impact in Bhutan.

Contributed by 

Koji Yamada, 

Chief Representative, JICA Bhutan Office