Climate-induced risks are increasing by the day. Sitting in the heart of the Himalayas, we are acutely aware of our vulnerabilities due to climate change. As global temperatures continue to rise and eat the glaciers away at a dramatic rate, we have only to prepare to minimise the impact on lives and properties downstream.
The Himalayan Mountains are a home to the third largest deposit of ice and snow in the world after Antarctica and the Arctic but glaciers are losing billions of tonnes of ice. What we must know, more importantly, is that ice loss is accelerating with rising temperatures.
The formation of supra-glacial lakes due to glacier retreat is already the single biggest challenge for Bhutan. According to some studies, glaciers in Bhutan are receding at a rate of 30-60 metres per decade, maybe even more. What this means is that the receding glaciers are increasing the volume of water in glacial lakes, destabilising the dams and increasing the risk of GLOF.
The glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) from the Luggye Tsho on October 7, 1994, is the most catastrophic yet in the living memory. It wrought unprecedented damage to the lives, livestock and properties along the Phochhu. Last June, when Thorthormi’s two subsidiary lakes breached the dams and threatened a GLOF, we saw ourselves panic and driven helter-skelter. There wasn’t a devastating GLOF, fortunately, but we were left to question our preparedness against such natural disasters again.
It is easy to forget the full and wide-ranging impact of climate change because many of us still do not understand climate change beyond rising global temperatures and melting ice. Recently, Bhutan has reported cases of extreme climatic events such as windstorm, delayed monsoon, unusual temperature rise, shortage of drinking and irrigation water, among others. For a poor and agricultural society like ours, devastations resulting from receding glaciers will be beyond the destruction of a few roads and bridges. It is critically important so to take climate change adaptation seriously.
We depend on water from our mountains for almost everything, particularly for irrigation and hydropower. Are our sector-specific policies taking into account the impact of climate change on our water sources that touch every aspect of our lives? Pessimism isn’t always a bad thing to have. Sometimes it is a whole lot better than inaction or waiting for the biggest contributors to climate change to atone for the sin and to make a U-turn.
Nothing can be more unavailing then blaming each other when humanity is faced with such a modern problem that could stifle the very life out of the Mother Earth.
It is good news that the local leaders are being informed about the state of climate, glaciers and associated risks of GLOFs in Puna-Wangdue valley. These are small steps towards educating our people. But more needs to be done to keep climate-related problems at bay.