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GLOF remains the biggest hazard for Bhutan
Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF)

Bhutan pursues environment and its management as an integral part of its development plan. Securing an intact environment also forms one of the pillars of Gross National Happiness. The Forest and Nature Conservation Act and the draft Constitution of the country require that at least 60% of the country remain forested at all times. Currently, over a quarter of Bhutan's land has been set aside as protected areas in the form of parks and biological corridors. Diversity in flora and fauna is one of the highest in Asia. Bhutan is also one of the few countries in the world with net greenhouse gas sequestration capacity largely due to its vast forest cover and widespread use of clean energy.

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Bhutan's glacial lakes
However, Bhutan is not spared the adverse effects of global climate change, ozone depletion or the loss of biodiversity. Natural disasters in the form of , landslides, forest fires disrupt and endanger lives and threaten the livelihoods of the people.

These natural disasters take tremendous toll on development often negating development efforts and threatening prospects of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

As a key partner of the Government in sustainable environment management, UNDP has been working closely with the Government to strengthen national capacity to address these challenges relating to climate change. This has been carried out through the Greenhouse Gas Project which began in 1996 and the National Programme of Action for Adaptation to Climate Change (NAPA), which concluded recently. NAPA is a process initiated in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to identify urgent and immediate projects and activities that can help communities adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. Taking into consideration all the different dimensions of climate vulnerability, the NAPA process in Bhutan recommended a national disaster risk management framework as a top priority.

Consequently, the Government with support from the UNDP in partnership with other resident UN agencies have developed a National Disaster Management Framework in 2006. The next step would be the operationalisation of the Framework through a joint Disaster Risk Management Programme, to be formulated jointly by the Government, UN agencies and other development partners in 2007. The Framework points out that disaster resilience must be based on multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholders' approach, requiring collaboration and coordinated action across sectors at all levels.

Another important recommendation of the NAPA process is the urgent need to reduce the water levels of the potentially high risk glacial lakes, namely the Thorthormi(Thortomi) and Raphstreng lakes, to mitigate the immediate threat posed by these lakes outburst to the population residing in the Punakha-Wangdi and Chamkar valleys in central Bhutan. The worst case scenario, according to some studies predicts the collapse of the wall separating the two glacial lakes as early as 2010, which could result in huge devastation downstream.

UNDP with funds from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) is helping the Government translate the NAPA concepts into ground reality and developing the capacity of the Government and the local communities to adapt to the vulnerabilities related to climate change. This will include assessing the most suitable early warning systems for GLOF threat in the Punakha-Wangdi valley, the implementation of hazard zonation and vulnerability mapping for the valleys including capacity building for climate change-induced disaster risk management at the national, intermediate and local levels.

An inception workshop on the project was held in Punakha on 24 January with the participation of key stakeholders from the Government, the district administration officials and representatives from the local communities of Punakha, Wangdi and Chamkar in Bumthang. The one-year project, will be executed by the Department of Geology and Mines with financial assistance amounting to US$430,000 funded jointly by UNDP and GEF.

Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) is one of the biggest hazards the country will continue to face given its numerous rivers which are glacial fed. Of the 2,674 glacial lakes in the country, 24 of them have been identified as potentially dangerous, posing threat of GLOF at any time.


Building Bhutan's resilience to Climate Change

The National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) is a process initiated in the Least Developed Countries (LDC) to identify urgent and immediate projects and activities that can help communities adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.

During 2005, The Royal Government of Bhutan carried out an assessment of the possible impact of climate change on various sectors: Health, agriculture, forest and biodiversity, water and energy, infrastructure and disasters and eventually identified nine priority projects.

Owing to the fact that Bhutan is highly vulnerable to the glacial lake outburst floods that could in a worst-case scenario result in huge loss of lives, infrastructure and damage to the environment, the stakeholders prioritized mitigating the threat from GLOF as the top priority under the NAPA, The current project has been developed by the RGOB and UNDP with a total fund of USD 3.4 million from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and will focus on the following:

1. Artificial lowering of Thorthormi Glacial Lake

2. GLOF hazard zoning in Chamkhar Chu basin and

3. Installation of Early Warning System in the Pho Chu basin

The current phase of the project will be implemented from December 2006. The UNDP Resident Representative, the Director of Department of Geology and Mines and the Department of Aid and Debt Management signed the project document at the NEC conference hall. The Deputy Minister, NEC, the Director General DADM, the Deputy RR, UNDP and the ARR Energy and Environment, UNDP were also present at the signing.

Source: UNDP Bhutan - United Nations Development Programme, 2007
more information Thorthormi (Thortomi) and Raphstreng lakes
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Source: United Nations

United Nations Disaster Management Team

Disaster Management Analysis in Bhutan
Thimphu, May 2005
Report prepared by Laurence Levaque
596 KB PDF Download
Source: United Nations Disaster Management Team, 2005
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