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Bhutan: The cost of climate change

Dec 01, 2009

Bhutan’s Thorthormi glacial lake is a story of risks that climate change is building for the communities and wildlife in the Himalayas. The Indian Himalayan region is home to over 5,160 glaciers, many of them are at risk today.

WWF’s latest publication, The cost of climate change: The story of Thorthormi glacial lake of Bhutan – which will be released today once again highlights the cautionary tale about global warming.

This publication is also the first compilation of reports on the dangers of melting glaciers in not just Bhutan but also the Himalayan regions of Nepal and India.

Referring to Thorthormi mitigation work, the report mainly showcases the difficulties and results of how Bhutan has been leading in the course of adaptation works in the region.

August 4, 2009 marked the start of Thorthormi mitigation work, one of the most difficult, yet pertinent climate change adaptation projects in the history of the Himalayas, according to the report.

The water level of the Thorthormi lake, which is threatening to burst at any time, was reduced by 86 cm in October this year.

“The efforts of the 300-odd workers to drain the dangerous Thorthormi lake underlines the costs and risks of climate change,” states the report, which covers, in detail, Operation Thorthormi, with voices from people working at the lake to bring down the water level.

The report, however, says that such heroic efforts at Thorthormi lake can relieve the pressure and avert immediate disaster, but they are not the long term answer.

“At least 80 lakes in the Himalayas are today potentially dangerous, but a Thorthormi-like effort cannot be done in every one,” states the report. In Bhutan alone, there are about 25 potentially dangerous glacial lakes.

The report also notes that, although Thorthormi tsho is the largest and most dangerous among the new lakes, about 16 new glaciers and 82 glacial lakes have formed in the Pochu headwaters alone.

The report also outlines the potentially dangerous glacial lakes in Nepal and India. The Indian Himalayan region is home to over 5,160 glaciers and about 35 destructive glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) have been recorded in the upper Indus river system that caused damage to lives and infrastructure.

Fourteen glacial lakes have been identified as potentially dangerous lakes in Sikkim, according to the WWF report.

Nepal, on the other hand, harbours 3,252 glaciers and 2,323 lakes. About 20 of them have been listed as potentially dangerous. A GLOF in 1985 destroyed bridges, hydel projects and swept away many lives, according to the report.

“The report underlines how vital it is to come to an agreement to reduce carbon emissions, the extent of climate change and reduce the loss of lives in areas that have contributed very little to the problems they now face,” said Kim Carstensen, leader of WWF’s campaign to secure fair, effective and binding global climate deal at Copenhagen summit this month.

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