We didn’t know much about the vagaries of global warming before 1994 despite having treaded cautiously on the path of development since the 1960s after opening our doors to the outside world.
However, the Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) in 1994, triggered by the outburst of the Lugge Tsho which wrecked havocs downstream in Punakha, is still a vivid reminder that Bhutan is as vulnerable as any other countries in the world to the impacts of climate change.
People, prior to the unfortunate incident, were in oblivion, oblivious of the reason behind such incident, and the understanding of the scenario. They apparently assumed that the disaster was a mere event where they simply had no control over it, while some believed that the catastrophe was a result of the clash or battle between the gods.
The incident was, indubitably, an eye opener for Bhutan, an eye opener for that age and for that time. It was perhaps the dawn of realization that we are vulnerable as well and living on mercy of nature.
The signs are becoming more apparent today. Monsoon patterns are changing and becoming more erratic. The rainfalls that usually bestow lives to rural farms have started coming late, becoming more erratic and unpredictable.
And typically as an agrarian country with a majority of the people depending on agriculture, agricultural production and food security are likely to become some major issues in the future because of climate change. We are already hearing about the impacts of climate change, such as farmers losing their crops to unusual outbreak of diseases and pests, erratic rainfalls, windstorms, flash floods and landslides.
Further, extreme events are observed more frequently now– unseasonal rains and drought, windstorms, flash flood and more natural disasters, and once snow-capped mountains have presently huge swathes of exposed rocks now as glaciers are apparently retreating.
And we are also living in a precarious predicament, never knowing when the 24 potentially dangerous lakes out of the total 2,674 might wreak havoc for the country. Bhutan’s hydropower generation, which is regarded as the backbone of the country’s economy, is one thing that would be adversely impacted by climate change.
While we may proclaim about us having done more than any other country in the world and our humongous contribution to the environment, the laurels such as champion of the earth and the only carbon neutral country in the world shouldn’t make us complacent.
The fact is that environmental conservation is inevitable for Bhutan despite the challenges. Conservation of the environment is just not for the sake of the environment, but for the sake of Bhutan’s own people and their future. It’s the only way we survive. We have no other choices.