Friday, May 1, 2009

wake up call

A The glacial lake outburst flood (glof) that occurred on 29 April was a wake up call for all of us. For some reason, after the construction of Phochu embankments to save Punakha Dzong following the 1994 floods, we sort of pushed the fact to the back of our minds.
Some 15 years later the spectre of glof came back to haunt us. What were we doing all these time? As the Prime Minister said, if it had been a real flood like the one that happened in 1994, it would have resulted in massive destruction of both human lives and public properties, because we were not prepared for it.
The 1994 floods at least made us set up out posts that would inform us of the impending danger. It was a right approach. But it wasn’t enough.
Since then we had been conducting various studies and a disaster mitigation project had also been set up to look into it. The recent one took us by surprise.
The snow and the glacier at the high mountains had been melting at an alarming rate. Here we are not concerned with statistics. That is the area of the geologists and others experts who are suppose to plan activities to manage disaster. We the common people are concerned with hard facts if something of 1994 repeats.
It shows the concern of the government when we realised that His Majesty the king with other members of the royal family and ministers and other officials hurried to Punakha when the news was relayed. It indicates the concern that our leadership has for the welfare of the people.
We have all heard of the world melting down. We are not talking of the economic meltdown. We are talking of the melting of the snow and glaciers in the Himalayas. If the facts are correct Mount Everest will come down by four metres at the rate the world is warming up. The Himalayas, the water tank of Asia will not be able to feed the numerous rivers that feed the valleys in Nepal, India or China.
Similarly if our lakes in Lunana burst their banks, our rivers will dry up. Floods are just one time problem. Our problem is the lack of accumulation of snow on these catchment areas that provides us with a perennial source of drinking and irrigation water.
With the warming up, the ice that used to hold up the moraine banks between the lakes are weakening and the rising water level will flow down. If it were just an overflow from a lake that was brimming up; it isn’t much of a concern. The danger is that our water tanks in Lunana and other mountain areas may dry up.
Our fertile mid-Himalayan valleys and further down in the south would be deprived of water. What that means to 80 percent of our farmers is another story.
That’s the time when statistics don’t help.