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OPINION-Bhutanโ€™s Resilient Stance-Navigating Environmental and Geological Challenges with Global Solidarity

In the unfolding narrative of environmental stewardship and climate resilience, Bhutan emerges as a beacon of proactivity, strategically navigating the intricate challenges posed by its unique geographical setting. The recently unveiled 2024 Regional Human Development Report brings into sharp focus the pressing vulnerabilities in the Asia-Pacific region, shedding light on the imperative for robust measures to mitigate the far-reaching impacts of climate change and geological risks.

Nestled between the vast expanses of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the Asia-Pacific region grapples with inherent coastal vulnerabilities, further compounded by the consequences of excessive groundwater extraction and rapid urbanization. The ominous specter of climate change looms large, intensifying storms, elevating sea levels, and reshaping precipitation patterns, thereby placing unprecedented stress on existing coastal defenses.

Beyond the environmental spectrum, the region stands as a hotbed for geological perils, most notably earthquakes and landslides. The seismic activity in the Himalayan and Hindukush regions paints a vivid picture of potential earthquakes, avalanches, and glacial lake outburst floods. These geological hazards intersect with broader issues, exacerbating challenges tied to sustainable water resources, biodiversity, and trans-boundary concerns.

In anticipation of heightened risks such as floods, droughts, and heatwaves, Bhutanโ€™s vulnerable areas are at the forefront of addressing the ramifications of the 2023 El Niรฑo event and ongoing climate change. Recognizing the urgency, Bhutan must fortify its local and national disaster resilience, encompassing not only effective early warning systems but also enhanced regional cooperation and the strategic implementation of nature-based solutions to confront these multifaceted challenges head-on.

However, commendable as Bhutanโ€™s efforts may be, meeting disaster reduction goals outlined in the Sendai Framework remains an uphill battle. The toll of natural disasters in the region is stark-more than two million lives lost, over 140 disasters in 2022 alone, impacting 64 million people and causing an estimated US$57 billion in economic damage. The increasing frequency and severity of natural hazards, fueled by climate change, underscore the urgent need for resolute action to address disaster reduction goals.

To align with the Sustainable Development Goals, Bhutan must bolster its disaster risk reduction and recovery efforts while championing risk-informed development. Large-scale disasters not only result in substantial medium-term losses but also underscore the imperative for proactive investment in building resilience. Bhutan is presented with an opportunity to view the climate crisis as a catalyst for addressing existing gaps and laying the foundation for transformation and progress.

Amid acknowledged difficulties, Bhutan is making commendable strides to minimize the impact of natural disasters and climate change. These efforts are rooted in the refinement of risk management and development strategies, aligning seamlessly with Bhutanโ€™s climate policy and development philosophy that emphasizes equitable, inclusive economic growth alongside environmental conservation.

The World Food Programme (WFP) Bhutanโ€™s Country Strategic Plan (2019-2023) takes center stage in fortifying Bhutanโ€™s resilience against natural disasters and climate-related challenges. In collaboration with the Royal Government of Bhutan, WFP engages in governance and coordination, data preparedness, logistics, emergency telecommunications, and food security-supporting Bhutanโ€™s emergency preparedness and response efforts.

In the realm of governance and coordination in Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR), WFP, in collaboration with the government, has meticulously crafted the Disaster Risk Management Roadmap for Bhutan (2022-2026). This comprehensive roadmap encapsulates Bhutanโ€™s hazard profile, national preparedness levels, and a strategic set of actions designed to bolster the governmentโ€™s framework for disaster risk reduction, systems, and institutional coordination.

Furthermore, the roadmap integrates disaster risk reduction into development planning, budgeting, and implementation processes, enhancing the nationโ€™s preparedness and response capacity for disasters. WFP, alongside the Department of Local Governance and Disaster Management (DLGDM), conducts simulation exercises and revises Disaster Management Contingency Plans (DMCP) at both national and district levels. These exercises play a pivotal role in identifying current shortcomings, pinpointing areas for improvement, and building the capabilities of first responders.

In the broader context of global cooperation, Bhutanโ€™s proactive stance should not go unnoticed. As the world grapples with the increasing frequency and severity of climate-related disasters, Bhutan stands as a model for resilience-building efforts. The international community must recognize the need for collaborative action, understanding that environmental wellbeing is not only Bhutanโ€™s responsibility but a shared global imperative.
Developed countries, in particular, have a significant role to play in supporting Bhutanโ€™s fight against global warming and environmental challenges. Financial and technological assistance can empower Bhutan to implement sustainable practices, enhance its infrastructure, and fortify its resilience against the impacts of climate change. Developed nations should consider allocating a portion of their climate aid budgets to Bhutan, aiding in the development of climate-resilient infrastructure and the implementation of innovative, sustainable solutions.

One avenue for support lies in the transfer of green technologies. Developed countries possess advanced technologies that can significantly contribute to Bhutanโ€™s efforts in mitigating and adapting to climate change. This can include renewable energy technologies, sustainable agricultural practices, and innovative water management systems. By sharing these technologies, developed nations can actively contribute to Bhutanโ€™s journey towards a more sustainable and resilient future.

Financial assistance is another crucial aspect of supporting Bhutanโ€™s environmental initiatives. Climate finance can be directed towards projects aimed at enhancing disaster resilience, protecting biodiversity, and promoting sustainable development in Bhutan. Moreover, developed countries can collaborate with Bhutan on capacity-building initiatives, empowering local communities to actively participate in and benefit from environmental conservation efforts.

Beyond financial and technological support, developed nations can engage in collaborative research initiatives with Bhutan. By pooling resources and expertise, joint research projects can lead to the development of innovative solutions for mitigating the impacts of climate change and geological risks. This collaborative approach fosters a sense of shared responsibility and promotes the exchange of knowledge and best practices on a global scale.

As Bhutan courageously confronts the looming threats of environmental and geological challenges, the world is called upon to unite in a global effort. Bhutanโ€™s proactive measures, coupled with international support, can pave the way for sustainable development and resilience in the face of an ever-changing climate and geological landscape. This editorial serves as a rallying cry for the global community to stand in solidarity with Bhutan and other vulnerable nations, ensuring they are equipped to navigate these challenges and collectively forging a safer and more sustainable future for all. Developed countries, in particular, must step up and actively contribute to Bhutanโ€™s fight against global warming, recognizing that a resilient Bhutan benefits the entire planet.

Sonam Wangchuk

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