Glacial Lakes are Clear and Present Danger

๐Š๐š๐ซ๐ฆ๐š ๐–๐š๐ง๐ ๐๐ข

While the dangers of a potential glacial lake outburst flood are well documented and discussed within policy circles, the countryโ€™s preparedness continues to be rather weak.

The information flow has improved over the years. A number of early warning stations have been set up. Even hazard zonations were done. But all this is not enough. The overall infrastructure remains unreliable.

On the other hand, the National Center for Hydrology and Meteorologyโ€™s (NCHM) 2019 reassessment showed that about 17 of the glacial lakes are highly vulnerable to outburst at any time.

โ€œThere is a need for constant monitoring because the lakesโ€™ morphology and their feeding glaciers are changing constantly,โ€ said the officiating director and chief glaciologist Karma Toeb of NCHM.

Karma Toeb said it was a daunting task to predict which lake would give way first and when.

โ€œThe only thing we know is that there is a lot of work that needs to be done to understand the lakes better,โ€ he said, adding that of the 17 dangerous lakes, a few have not been verified on the ground due to inaccessibility.

Studies by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD, 2016) has indicated that the current coverage of hazard-monitoring infrastructure must be improved by at least an additional 70 new Automatic Weather Station (AWS), 25 Automatic Water Level Station (AWLS), and 8 landslide monitoring devices which contribute to 35 integrated Early Warning System in Bhutan.

Officials of NCHM say the current early warning system (EWS) is almost 10 years old and must be upgraded. They say a complete overhaul of the system would be expensive. The NCHM is seeking the necessary financial assistance from the government.

๐—š๐—น๐—ฎ๐—ฐ๐—ถ๐—ฎ๐—น ๐—Ÿ๐—ฎ๐—ธ๐—ฒ๐˜€ ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ฒ ๐—–๐—น๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ฑ ๐—ฃ๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐˜€๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜ ๐——๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ด๐—ฒ๐—ฟ

๐Š๐š๐ซ๐ฆ๐š ๐–๐š๐ง๐ ๐๐ข

While the dangers of a potential glacial lake outburst flood are well documented and discussed within policy circles, the countryโ€™s preparedness continues to be rather weak.

The information flow has improved over the years. A number of early warning stations have been set up. Even hazard zonations were done. But all this is not enough. The overall infrastructure remains unreliable.

On the other hand, the National Center for Hydrology and Meteorologyโ€™s (NCHM) 2019 reassessment showed that about 17 of the glacial lakes are highly vulnerable to outburst at any time.

โ€œThere is a need for constant monitoring because the lakesโ€™ morphology and their feeding glaciers are changing constantly,โ€ said the officiating director and chief glaciologist Karma Toeb of NCHM.

Karma Toeb said it was a daunting task to predict which lake would give way first and when.

โ€œThe only thing we know is that there is a lot of work that needs to be done to understand the lakes better,โ€ he said, adding that of the 17 dangerous lakes, a few have not been verified on the ground due to inaccessibility.

Studies by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD, 2016) has indicated that the current coverage of hazard-monitoring infrastructure must be improved by at least an additional 70 new Automatic Weather Station (AWS), 25 Automatic Water Level Station (AWLS), and 8 landslide monitoring devices which contribute to 35 integrated Early Warning System in Bhutan.

Officials of NCHM say the current early warning system (EWS) is almost 10 years old and must be upgraded. They say a complete overhaul of the system would be expensive. The NCHM is seeking the necessary financial assistance from the government.

๐‡๐š๐ณ๐š๐ซ๐ ๐™๐จ๐ง๐š๐ญ๐ข๐จ๐ง๐ฌ ๐๐ž๐ž๐๐ฌ ๐”๐ฉ๐๐š๐ญ๐ข๐ง๐  ๐“๐จ๐จ

The hazard zonations mapping prepared by an Austrian team in collaboration with the geology and mines department in 2008 is still also awaiting revision. Officials say the validity of the 2008 mapping is questionable as most of the flood warning system needs revival upgrading today.

According to the 2008 mapping, the following areas fall in the red zone: from Chhimi_Lhakhang till Lhamoidzingkha, a total of 117 buildings, with 558 people, 28 livestock, 16 monuments, two bridges in the area of 13.21 kmยฒ; a cultivated land of 0.42 kmยฒ and arid land (barren, open, scrubs) of 1.36 kmยฒ and forest cover of 2.2 kmยฒand the built-up area of 0.11 kmยฒ. In the red zone, peopleโ€™s lives are in danger both inside and outside homes and physical structures could be completely damaged.

The following areas fall in the yellow zone: 173 buildings with 1,399 people, 220 livestock, six historical monuments, and six bridges in the area of 5.78 kmยฒ; a cultivated land of 1.26 kmยฒ, arid land (barren, open and scrubs) of 0.573 kmยฒ, the forest cover of 1.16 kmยฒ and a built-up area of 0.32 kmยฒ. In the yellow zone, people are in danger outside their houses, and buildings may suffer damage and possible destruction depending on construction characteristics.

Similarly, the flood hazard map shows the vulnerabilities of settlements along the Chamkhar Chhu basin. The map indicates that the Bathpalathang Airport is located in the flood hazard area.

The situation gets even trickier given a mixed adherence to these warnings, both by the government and the public. There are no clear regulatory policies on whether to allow constructions alongside the river basin considering the danger of glacial lake outbursts flood in the future. Further, 70 percent of the settlement lies alongside river valleys and most of the agricultural activities occur at the hazard zones.

Some work has been done, though. A number of national recovery and reconstruction plans have been devised in the aftermath of recent disasters like the 2009 Cyclone Aila. However, due to lack of strategic overview, lack of local technical capacity, and inadequacies in funding for recovery, the implementation of building Bhutan better has been challenging.

โ€œAbsence of key disaster and climate-related information is among the main challenges to be solved before risk-informed development may occur,โ€ said Karma Toeb.

NCHMโ€™s chief of water resource service division, Tayba Buddha Tamang, some technical reports that are not very reliable to make decisions. โ€œBut we do have plans to establish an early warning system along Wang Chhu to monitor dangers from glacial lakes,โ€ he said.

Of the 17 potentially dangerous glacial lakes, nine fall under the Pho Chhu sub-basin and two in the Mo Chhu sub-basin. Three of them fall under the Mangde Chhu sub-basin, two under the Chamkhar Chhu sub-basin, and one under Kuri Chhu sub-basin.

โ€œCurrently we are concentrating more on Lunana as technical studies and our finding shows that the lakes there are more critical. We monitor the Lunana lakes every year,โ€ said Karma Toeb.

(๐‘‡โ„Ž๐‘’ ๐‘Ž๐‘Ÿ๐‘ก๐‘–๐‘๐‘™๐‘’ ๐‘–๐‘  ๐‘ค๐‘Ÿ๐‘–๐‘ก๐‘ก๐‘’๐‘› ๐‘ค๐‘–๐‘กโ„Ž ๐‘“๐‘–๐‘›๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘๐‘–๐‘Ž๐‘™ ๐‘ ๐‘ข๐‘๐‘๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ๐‘ก ๐‘“๐‘Ÿ๐‘œ๐‘š ๐ตโ„Ž๐‘ข๐‘ก๐‘Ž๐‘› ๐‘€๐‘’๐‘‘๐‘–๐‘Ž ๐น๐‘œ๐‘ข๐‘›๐‘‘๐‘Ž๐‘ก๐‘–๐‘œ๐‘› ๐‘ข๐‘›๐‘‘๐‘’๐‘Ÿ ๐ถ๐‘™๐‘–๐‘š๐‘Ž๐‘ก๐‘’ ๐ถโ„Ž๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘”๐‘’ ๐‘…๐‘’๐‘๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ๐‘ก๐‘–๐‘›๐‘” ๐‘”๐‘Ÿ๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘ก)

๐‡๐š๐ณ๐š๐ซ๐ ๐™๐จ๐ง๐š๐ญ๐ข๐จ๐ง๐ฌ ๐๐ž๐ž๐๐ฌ ๐”๐ฉ๐๐š๐ญ๐ข๐ง๐  ๐“๐จ๐จ

The hazard zonations mapping prepared by an Austrian team in collaboration with the geology and mines department in 2008 is still also awaiting revision. Officials say the validity of the 2008 mapping is questionable as most of the flood warning system needs revival upgrading today.

According to the 2008 mapping, the following areas fall in the red zone: from Chhimi_Lhakhang till Lhamoidzingkha, a total of 117 buildings, with 558 people, 28 livestock, 16 monuments, two bridges in the area of 13.21 kmยฒ; a cultivated land of 0.42 kmยฒ and arid land (barren, open, scrubs) of 1.36 kmยฒ and forest cover of 2.2 kmยฒand the built-up area of 0.11 kmยฒ. In the red zone, peopleโ€™s lives are in danger both inside and outside homes and physical structures could be completely damaged.

The following areas fall in the yellow zone: 173 buildings with 1,399 people, 220 livestock, six historical monuments, and six bridges in the area of 5.78 kmยฒ; a cultivated land of 1.26 kmยฒ, arid land (barren, open and scrubs) of 0.573 kmยฒ, the forest cover of 1.16 kmยฒ and a built-up area of 0.32 kmยฒ. In the yellow zone, people are in danger outside their houses, and buildings may suffer damage and possible destruction depending on construction characteristics.

Similarly, the flood hazard map shows the vulnerabilities of settlements along the Chamkhar Chhu basin. The map indicates that the Bathpalathang Airport is located in the flood hazard area.

The situation gets even trickier given a mixed adherence to these warnings, both by the government and the public. There are no clear regulatory policies on whether to allow constructions alongside the river basin considering the danger of glacial lake outbursts flood in the future. Further, 70 percent of the settlement lies alongside river valleys and most of the agricultural activities occur at the hazard zones.

Some work has been done, though. A number of national recovery and reconstruction plans have been devised in the aftermath of recent disasters like the 2009 Cyclone Aila. However, due to lack of strategic overview, lack of local technical capacity, and inadequacies in funding for recovery, the implementation of building Bhutan better has been challenging.

โ€œAbsence of key disaster and climate-related information is among the main challenges to be solved before risk-informed development may occur,โ€ said Karma Toeb.

NCHMโ€™s chief of water resource service division, Tayba Buddha Tamang, some technical reports that are not very reliable to make decisions. โ€œBut we do have plans to establish an early warning system along Wang Chhu to monitor dangers from glacial lakes,โ€ he said.

Of the 17 potentially dangerous glacial lakes, nine fall under the Pho Chhu sub-basin and two in the Mo Chhu sub-basin. Three of them fall under the Mangde Chhu sub-basin, two under the Chamkhar Chhu sub-basin, and one under Kuri Chhu sub-basin.

โ€œCurrently we are concentrating more on Lunana as technical studies and our finding shows that the lakes there are more critical. We monitor the Lunana lakes every year,โ€ said Karma Toeb.

(๐‘‡โ„Ž๐‘’ ๐‘Ž๐‘Ÿ๐‘ก๐‘–๐‘๐‘™๐‘’ ๐‘–๐‘  ๐‘ค๐‘Ÿ๐‘–๐‘ก๐‘ก๐‘’๐‘› ๐‘ค๐‘–๐‘กโ„Ž ๐‘“๐‘–๐‘›๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘๐‘–๐‘Ž๐‘™ ๐‘ ๐‘ข๐‘๐‘๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ๐‘ก ๐‘“๐‘Ÿ๐‘œ๐‘š ๐ตโ„Ž๐‘ข๐‘ก๐‘Ž๐‘› ๐‘€๐‘’๐‘‘๐‘–๐‘Ž ๐น๐‘œ๐‘ข๐‘›๐‘‘๐‘Ž๐‘ก๐‘–๐‘œ๐‘› ๐‘ข๐‘›๐‘‘๐‘’๐‘Ÿ ๐ถ๐‘™๐‘–๐‘š๐‘Ž๐‘ก๐‘’ ๐ถโ„Ž๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘”๐‘’ ๐‘…๐‘’๐‘๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ๐‘ก๐‘–๐‘›๐‘” ๐‘”๐‘Ÿ๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘ก)