As far as natural disasters go, Pakistan is bearing the brunt of what is unanimously seen as a disaster induced by climate change. The recent floods had killed more than a thousand people and destroyed two million acres of crops and more than 700,000 houses. The rain has stopped and floodwaters receded. It is exposing more evidence of the impact.
Pakistan survived a heat wave just before the floods. Both are linked to climate change. The calamity confronting Pakistan, if scary, is a timely reminder of how we must prepare, adapt to and mitigate the impact of increasing climate-change-induced disasters.
There are a lot of similarities and lessons to draw from the recent catastrophe. Pakistan and Bhutan are both located in the great Himalayan range. If climate change is the cause of the devastation, it is an injustice to the country and its people. Pakistan contributes less than one percent of the global greenhouse gases that warms the planet. They are the eighth most vulnerable country to climate change impact.
We may take pride in being a carbon-neutral country, but from the Pakistan experience, it is evident that our action alone is not enough to stop the earth from heating up. This year, several countries on six continents felt the impact of human actions. The several severe heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and never before seen flooding on all the continents are a tell-tale sign of what is coming.
While developed countries could cope up with disasters, it is poorer countries that are feeling the heat of global warming. The cause of the flooding in Pakistan is attributed to excessive monsoon rain and melting glaciers. Our geography is no different and that is a reason to worry.
Glaciologists say that our glaciers are more vulnerable compared to those in the Western Himalayas (glaciers in Pakistan). This is because Western Himalayan glaciers get their accumulation both from the monsoon and from westerlies in winter. The main source of nourishment for our glaciers is the monsoon rain. A slight rise in temperature, they say, can have a drastic impact on the precipitation form. If it is not snowing but raining in Lunana in summer, for instance, the glaciers will not be replenished
Climate change is close to the heart of our planners, decision-makers and development partners. We have identified and zoned risky areas, especially for glacial outburst floods. But a lot has changed and from the recent events, it is time we relooked into policies and priorities.
We have evidence that our glaciers in Lunana are retreating, posing risk to the fragile lakes. In the Punakha-Wangdue valley, the risk mapping is not enough. Most parts of Khuruthang and Bajo town are in the red zone, yet settlement is increasing without any adaptation or mitigation measures. A flood warning siren may send people to higher grounds, but what about the property, the national monuments like the Punakha dzong or even the Trashichhodzong in case of a massive flood?
The blessed rainy day, which is two weeks away, is believed to mark the end of the monsoon in Bhutan. Our farmers will recall that it never rained enough this year. This July recorded some of the hottest days in years. Last year, farmers lost paddy to the late monsoon that coincided with the harvest time. The weather is becoming erratic and climate scientists are warning of extreme weather events.
We will not be spared even if it is not our doing.