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Bhutan Faces Growing Environmental and Geological Challenges

โ€ฆ๐’—๐’–๐’๐’๐’†๐’“๐’‚๐’ƒ๐’๐’† ๐’‚๐’“๐’†๐’‚๐’” ๐’Š๐’ ๐‘ฉ๐’‰๐’–๐’•๐’‚๐’ ๐’‚๐’๐’•๐’Š๐’„๐’Š๐’‘๐’‚๐’•๐’† ๐’‚๐’ ๐’Š๐’๐’„๐’“๐’†๐’‚๐’”๐’† ๐’Š๐’ ๐’”๐’†๐’—๐’†๐’“๐’† ๐’‰๐’‚๐’›๐’‚๐’“๐’…๐’” ๐’”๐’–๐’„๐’‰ ๐’‚๐’” ๐’‡๐’๐’๐’๐’…๐’”, ๐’…๐’“๐’๐’–๐’ˆ๐’‰๐’•๐’”, ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐’‰๐’†๐’‚๐’•๐’˜๐’‚๐’—๐’†๐’”, ๐’‡๐’–๐’“๐’•๐’‰๐’†๐’“ ๐’†๐’™๐’‚๐’„๐’†๐’“๐’ƒ๐’‚๐’•๐’†๐’… ๐’ƒ๐’š ๐’•๐’‰๐’† 2023 ๐‘ฌ๐’ ๐‘ต๐’Š๐’ฬƒ๐’ ๐’†๐’—๐’†๐’๐’• ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐’๐’๐’ˆ๐’๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐’„๐’๐’Š๐’Ž๐’‚๐’•๐’† ๐’„๐’‰๐’‚๐’๐’ˆ๐’†.

Susmika Subba

In a concerted effort to navigate the rising challenges posed by its unique geographical location, Bhutan is proactively addressing environmental risks and climate change impacts. The 2024 Regional Human Development Report sheds light on the elevated vulnerabilities faced by the Asia-Pacific region, emphasizing the need for strategic measures.

The Asia-Pacific region’s vulnerability stems from its positioning between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, making coastal vulnerabilities a concern. Inland, the consequences of excessive groundwater extraction and rapid urbanization amplify the risk of flooding. To compound these challenges, climate change intensifies storms, raises sea levels, and alters precipitation patterns, straining the region’s coastal defenses.

In addition to environmental threats, Asia-Pacific region is a hotspot for geological risks, primarily earthquakes and landslides. The Himalayan and Hindukush regions, with their seismic activity, face the potential for earthquakes, avalanches, and glacial lake outburst floods. These geological hazards intersect with broader environmental and societal issues, worsening existing challenges related to sustainable water resources, biodiversity, and trans-boundary concerns.

Vulnerable areas in Bhutan anticipate an increase in severe hazards such as floods, droughts, and heatwaves, further exacerbated by the 2023 El Niรฑo event and ongoing climate change.

In response to these complex and escalating risks, it’s essential for Bhutan to invest in local and national disaster resilience. This investment should include maintaining effective early warning systems and enhancing regional cooperation. The implementation of nature-based solutions is equally important to mitigate these risks.

Like many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Bhutan has struggled to meet its disaster reduction goals outlined in the Sendai Framework. Over the years, natural disasters have claimed more than two million lives. In 2022 alone, the Asia-Pacific region experienced over 140 disasters, resulting in over 7,500 deaths, affecting 64 million people, and causing an estimated US$57 billion in economic damage. Climate change has driven the increasing frequency and severity of natural hazards, including floods, cyclones, heat waves, droughts, and earthquakes, leading to tragic loss of life, displaced communities, health and property damage, and the impoverishment of millions.

The 2022 disasters experienced across the Asia-Pacific region have highlighted the urgency of addressing disaster reduction goals. To meet the Sustainable Development Goals, Bhutan must strengthen disaster risk reduction and recovery efforts while promoting risk-informed development. Large-scale disasters lead to significant medium-term losses in economic, social, and environmental development. Investments are essential not only to prevent further impoverishment but also to proactively build resilience. Bhutan has an opportunity to view the climate crisis as a catalyst for addressing existing gaps and laying the groundwork for transformation and advancement.

While the difficulties are acknowledged, Bhutan is taking strides to minimize the impact of natural disasters and climate change. These steps revolve around improving risk management and development strategies, aiming to harmoniously integrate with national and local adaptation initiatives. These resilience-building efforts align with Bhutan’s climate policy and its development philosophy, which emphasizes equitable, inclusive economic growth, coupled with environmental conservation.

World Food Programme (WFP) Bhutanโ€™s Country Strategic Plan (2019-2023) places a significant emphasis on strengthening resilience to natural disasters and climate-related challenges. To bolster the nation’s capacity to respond to these crises, WFP collaborates with the Royal Government of Bhutan in five essential areas: governance and coordination, data preparedness, logistics, emergency telecommunications, and food security, thereby supporting Bhutan’s emergency preparedness and response (EPR) efforts.

In the pursuit of improving governance and coordination in Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR), WFP, in collaboration with the government, has finalized the Disaster Risk Management Roadmap for Bhutan (2022-2026). This comprehensive roadmap encompasses Bhutan’s hazard profile, the national level of preparedness, and a set of actions designed to reinforce the government’s framework for disaster risk reduction, its systems, and institutional coordination.

Moreover, the roadmap incorporates the integration of disaster risk reduction into development planning, budgeting, and implementation processes, thereby enhancing the nation’s preparedness and response capacity for disasters. WFP, in partnership with the Department of Local Governance and Disaster Management (DLGDM), has also undertaken simulation exercises and revised Disaster Management Contingency Plans (DMCP) at both the national and district levels. These exercises play a crucial role in identifying current shortcomings, pinpointing areas for improving DMCP implementation, and building the capabilities of first responders.

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