Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha

More than two decades after the Lugge tsho breached its dam in 1994, people along the Phochu and Mochu continue to attribute the calamity to religious reasons.

Speaking at the Bhutan Himalayan Climate Studies (BHCS) science dialogue held in Punakha, lecturer at the College of Language and Culture Studies (CLCS), Dawa Zangmo, said that despite villager’s little understanding of climate change, the Bhutanese community continued to live in harmony with the environment.

She added that it was important to understand the gap between Bhutanese cultural beliefs and climate change and also to synergise the two ideas (scientific education and local culture).

To better understand the role of cultural beliefs and changing climate, Dawa Zangmo and Dorji Gyeltshen conducted a survey in late 2019.

“Most people from Phochu side understood that the 1994 flood was due to GLOF. Around Mochu, though, a majority of people had religious reasons. Only a few believed that it was because of the global warming,” Dawa Zangmo said.

The reason for such difference in opinions was because people along Phochu are more sensitised in terms of the outburst flood, as it is a high-risk zone.

Among the religious beliefs, some here say that the flood is the way for local deity Ap Khachoep to offer timber to Zhabdrung, Dawa Zangmo said.

The preliminary findings also pointed out that Bhutanese cultural beliefs also built natural resilience to climate change through various practices.

Ladam, a customary sealing or closure of mountains such as in Buli tsho and avoiding burning plastics near Chubbu tshachu were some of the many examples cited.

Dawa Zangmo said that it was important to conduct in-depth study of historical documents and religious texts in context to local beliefs, and to conduct a comprehensive culture-related research in context of climate change.

“Evidently, religious beliefs were strong in the region. And even though the majority of villagers can’t comprehend the implications of climate change, through various cultural sentiment and beliefs they’ve done their part in living diligently with the environment.”

The BHCS dialogue series II was held at the College of Natural Resources on March 11.