Our small but significant role

If it was not ominous, it was a bad coincidence.  Visibility in the capital city was reduced to a few hundred metres yesterday morning, as a thick blanket of opaque substance hung in the air for a while.

We don’t know if it was smog, haze, fog or smoke.  But it was not a pleasant spring Thimphu morning.  Yesterday was the World Meteorological Day.  Although there was no celebration or major events organised to mark the day, Bhutan also observed the day every year.

On the day, the department of hydro met services takes stock of the climate knowledge, built in the last decades, as an essential base to support the path towards more ambitious action to address climate change and variability.  We are not sure how much a small department in a small ministry of a small country can do to address climate change, or how much crucial information is released to global decision makers to help fight climate change.

But located in a fragile ecosystem and in the great Himalayas, every bit of information is crucial.  Experts have predicted that the Himalayan countries would see severe consequences of climate change.  If a few inches of rising ocean level can submerge thousands of acres of costal land, fast retreating glaciers that feed our river system and the source of drinking and irrigation water can starve millions of people.

Information, rather scientific data, is crucial to convince climate change skeptics and bring them to the negotiation table to make the world a better place.  A small country, but strategically located like Bhutan, can do that.

There was no snow in the valleys this year, even though it came quite near.  A decade ago, Thimphu would experience three snowfalls in a winter.  Is it because of climate change?  We will leave it to the experts.   But we are experiencing a lot of new problems.  Villagers are reporting water sources drying up, and an attack from a foreign weed that usually grows in the tropics.  Monsoon is becoming erratic and not only man triggers forest fires.

We have environment conservation high on our development agenda.  Climate change and environment are closely related.  Our laws are strict and, to a large extent, favour nature over human beings.  But that is not enough to prevent the adversities of climate change, which is not only our doing.

It is on such a predicament that the importance of forecast, early warning and mitigation is significant.  How much money is spent on that?  Apart from a small information leaflet on what the department does, the World Meteorological Day in the country was a low-key event.  The small message asks people to be mindful of what they eat, how they live or what they do to slow down the effects of climate change.

It is a good reminder, even if we are concerned about the environment more than most countries.  By doing that, we will at least not be guilty when our children ask us what we contributed.

A small country like Bhutan may not easily move global thinking and global action.  But we should contribute in our small ways.

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