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Is Bhutan Already Under the Shadows of Climate Change?

The recent catastrophe lashed by the retreating monsoons has become a cause of concern as the country battles changing weather patterns and freak weather reports

By Rinchen Dorji

The recent trail of destruction left by the sudden and untimely downpour has left the country reeling as we scramble for answers to fight natural calamities that is becoming a regular phenomenon today.

It is also a reminder that, with aid of modern technology and AI, a lot of disasters could be averted if we have the right technology and the right personnel to handle it.

While the National Center for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM), the apex body that looks after weather and climate-related issues, had given a rainfall advisory on the 17th, it was a case of too little too late, as farmers had already harvested their paddy and left it in the open fields to dry.

The country was battered by an unusually late barrage of rainfall which, according to NCHM and Indian Meteorology Department, was caused by a low pressure system in the Bay of Bengal, a phenomenon that is created by the retreating southwest monsoons.

While no human casualties were reported, the rains that lashed till 21st reportedly washed away 26 cattle in Bangaley village under Denchukha Gewog, Samtse.

According to the Drungkhag office, villagers residing along the river were informed of the risk posed by the continuous rainfall and were warned to relocated in higher grounds should the situation deteriorated.

Numerous roadblocks and freak road accidents were also reported across the country as Department of Roads and DANTAK officials raced against time to keep the highways unclogged and running.

Meanwhile, the rainfall occurred at the most undesirable time as it is peak harvest season for paddy farmers who dread the thoughts of rainfall at this time of the year.

Farmers in Paro, Punakha, Wangdi, Samtse and some parts of eastern and central Bhutan had already begun the yearโ€™s paddy harvests just days before the HCHM gave the advisory on the 17th.

Paro dzongkhag was the hardest hit as it reported that over 800 acres of paddy were damaged by the ensuing deluge. Samtse dzongkhag lost about 500 acres of paddy while Punakha dzongkhag also reported losses in more than 350 acres of prime paddy cultivation.

A few paddy growing districts like Tsirang, Dagana and Sarpang were spared of the aftermaths as they had not yet started with the yearโ€™s paddy harvest.

Tika Ram Kafley, a farmer in Tsirang said they start harvesting only towards late October or early to mid November when the skies are clear and the monsoons have long retreated.

However, for the farmers of the affected districts the sight of destruction caused by the untimely rains has become unbearable, as hundreds of acres of freshly-cut paddy were inundated by the ensuing deluge.

While, Desuups and government officials rushed to help farmers retrieve their harvests, nothing much could be done as the damage was already done by then.

A farmer from Lungni Gewog in Paro, who saw his yearโ€™s paddy harvest inundated under water, said it was a very difficult sight to bear as all of their yearโ€™s hard work and toil has been rendered useless.

โ€œThe rice production this year could have substantially gone down by more than half, and the little that we could retrieve after the rains will also be either spoiled or of inferior quality. I think we will have to make do with imported rice this time,โ€ he said, adding they never had to buy rice till date.

Farmers had not insured their crops

While dzonglkhag officials across the country are assessing the damages caused by the recent spate of rainfall, officials said a majority or none of the farmers had insured their crops.

Paro dzongkhag officials said that despite repeatedly trying to coax and sensitize farmers to insure their crops, no one had done it till date.

โ€œWe have been continuously sensitizing people to insure their crops. But in Paro, no one has insured so far. However, our gewog agriculture extension officers are visiting every household to assess the damage. We will submit the report to the dzongkhag and the ministry,โ€ said Tandin, the dzongkhag agriculture officer.

While there is a system of crop compensation in place, the idea of insuring crops is still not popular among farmers.

Tshering Dema, a farmer in Geptey, Paro said she lost about an acre of paddy to the rains. But the saddest part, according to her, is that she had never thought of insuring her crops which was a big mistake.

โ€œWe never thought that insuring our crops was important until this disaster happened. I think it is a big lesson for all farmers to insure their crops as natural calamities are becoming more pronounced every year,โ€ the 58-year-old, mother of three said. 

Dawa Choden, Deputy Manager of Bhutan Insurance Limited, said the company donโ€™t have insurance of agriculture crops but that they have introduced an agricultural loan scheme under the priority sector landing in collaboration with RICBL.

โ€œNo one had availed the loan under the scheme till date from BIL. They could have claimed insurance had they have taken loan under that scheme ,โ€she said.

She added that BIL is working on Agriculture and Livestock Insurance Schemes but are not sure when they will start implementing it.

Reports from other Dzongkhags were also bleak, as dzongkhag officials said none of the farmers had insured their crops. 

Could the catastrophe been averted?

While the NCHM issued the weather advisory on the 17th, that untimely rains were expected to hit the country till the 21st, farmers especially in western dzongkhags had already begun harvesting paddy about a week-prior.

By the time the advisory was aired and broadcast on the national Television on the evening of 17th it was already late.

NCHM officials said that while the department is working round the clock to provide all possible updates and reports, they are still faced with daunting challenges as they have to rely on Indian satellites to provide us the data, which was often delayed.

He said that while the NCHM posts all kinds of advisories and updates, it is important that everyone play their part to help disseminate this information to the farmers, a majority of who does not follow or read NCHMโ€™s notifications and updates.

He said to avert similar tragedies in the future the government should set up a common communication mechanism to convey crucial weather information to farmers in a timely manner.

โ€œIt is very heart breaking to see our farmers lose their yearโ€™s harvest to a natural calamity which could have been averted,โ€ he said.

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