Is Bhutan prepared to mitigate climate-induced disasters?

Natural catastrophes largely triggered by climate factors are becoming a grave threat to the country every passing year.

By Tshering Dema

This year the country experienced one of its worst natural disasters as landslides claimed about 11 cordyceps’ collectors in the highlands. Further, heavy rainfall washed away three young school kids in Trashiyangtse dzongkhag just recently.

Last year the Moa river tragedy, which claimed four RBA personnel’s lives, also sent ripples across the nation that climate-induced disasters were becoming more prominent and that Bhutan’s disaster response and mitigation should become more proactive than ever.  

The latest report by the UN climate science body IPCC, released last week, also paints a grim picture that spells out startling facts on climate change and global warming.

It has reported that with increasing global surface temperatures the likelihood of more droughts, increased intensity of storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, wildfires and economic losses also are growing as more people integrate disaster-prone areas.

The report confirms that the intensity and frequency of hot extremes, including heat waves, and heavy precipitation, as well as agricultural and ecological droughts, continue to increase as temperatures rise.

For South Asia including Bhutan and Nepal, the average precipitations, as well as heavy rainfall events, are projected to increase.

β€œThis will result in more flooding and landslide events. All this will have far-reaching consequences across the region with water-dependent energy sectors and water-intensive agricultural systems,” the report warns.

It further states the most vulnerable countries, including mountainous areas, are already at the forefront of fatal climate and weather disruptions. These countries with limited resources will continuously require international support to combat climate change, and at a scale well beyond current levels.

Further IPCC forewarns that the biggest polluters such as the G7 and G20 must take urgent action in response to the climate emergency, starting by adopting robust and bold 2030 climate commitments by the next UN climate summit – the COP26 – scheduled for November this year.

As global climate change worsens, dangerous weather events are getting more frequent and severe.

Thinley Norbu, the Chief of Risk Prevention and Reduction Division (RPRD), states that the Department of Disaster (DDM) is the primary organization that prescribes policies and directives, and also source funding and frame guidelines for all disaster-related issues in the country.

He said DDM also coordinate and ensures that all the stakeholders come together for any multilateral decisions and approach to disaster mitigation in the country.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is the highest body in the country that caters to these issues and that there are national (DDM), dzongkhag and local bodies spread across the nation to help augment disaster management efforts in the country.

Critical early warning stations have also been installed in select locations, mostly along river valleys with potential GLOF and other dangers, while Desuups have also been a critical organization that has been at the frontlines of these climate-induced disasters in the country.

Desuups have also contributed a lot to recent search and rescue efforts conducted across the country as disasters continue to occur. The ongoing massive hunt for the three school boys who were washed away by a stream in Trashiyangtse, of which one is still unaccounted, is also mostly being led by them.  

DDM has also appointed focal persons in all the Dzongkhags who provide timely updates and also provides real-time updates through their social media handles so that information is prompt and hassle free.  

The Chief of RPRD said that Bhutan is a very vulnerable country that is highly prone to natural disasters like landslides, flood and earthquakes and have to be at high alert should a disaster strike the country.

He said global climate change is trans-boundary that affected all nations and Bhutan, despite being a carbon negative country, is not immune to its aftermaths.  

Therefore, Thinley Norbu said, the only hope for us is to maneuver to safer places or invest more in disaster mitigation efforts β€˜as getting prepared in advance would be the best response to fighting a disaster.   

While some disasters like earthquakes which have devastating effects cannot be forewarned, climate-induced disaster like monsoon flooding and forest fires could be prevented to a large extent if corrective measures are undertaken.

The recent UN climate report by IPCC states that mountainous countries like Bhutan and Nepal will see increased incidences of flooding and landslides which would largely be triggered by varied rainfall patterns, which is again linked to climate change.

It also warns that the effects of climate change are getting visible every year as more disasters occur. This calls for increased vigilance on Bhutan’s efforts towards mitigating these increasing natural disasters.

Meanwhile, the DDM is mulling over establishing an institution that will specialize in Search and Rescue efforts in Sarchap, Chhukha and will also attempt to institutionalize search and rescue team in every Dzongkhags.

In terms of mitigation and preparedness, DDM is also spearheading in advocating awareness on these issues. They have also trained and competent professionals to help and coordinate SAR and other disaster-related efforts in the country.

However, with increasing incidences of climate-induced disasters that has far reaching impacts on lives and properties, the need for timely intervention tools and national policies that are aligned towards mitigating disasters has become the need of the hour.

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