Farmers bearing the brunt of climate change

Devastation caused by the torrential rain due to climate change

DEMA YESHI | Thimphu

Most places in Bhutan are prone to disasters such as flood, land erosion and windstorms. The causes of these catastrophes are due to unstable weather, topography and disproportionate foundation of the soil. Over the decades, these natural calamities have wreaked havoc and caused undue damages to lives and properties.

According to climate expert Om Katel, Bhutan has high degree of exposure to different hazards and disasters such as flooding, landslides, windstorms and others. Owing to the diverse landforms and topographical variations, rural areas are highly vulnerable to landslides and soil erosion while urban areas are specifically vulnerable to floods.

Data show that about 70% to 80% of the total rainfall received in Bhutan is received in just four months. These four summer months are critical and disrupt transportation and communication.

In the recent past, the precipitation pattern has changed and such changing precipitation pattern triggers more landslides due to which our country is becoming more vulnerable to climate change impacts. In addition to the precipitation patterns, the extreme events are significantly increasing.

These extreme events, such as storms and flooding, pose risks to our infrastructure, lives and livelihoods. On the other hand, our agricultural lands are highly vulnerable as they are either located along the drainage basins or high up on steep slopes with a high risk of erosion.

However, it is important to understand that different parts of the country are vulnerable to different climate induced hazards. For instance, based on the study by UNDP, Mongar, Punakha, Samtse and Sarpang dzongkhags are highly vulnerable to climatic hazards, while the risks and hazards are different to different dzongkhags.

This does not mean that other dzongkhags are not affected by climate change impacts but are affected at a different scale and spatial distributions. Samtse Dzongkhag is highly vulnerable to landslides and flooding while fire hazards are relatively more in Mongar Dzongkhag.

Amongst the dzongkhags, Samdrupjongkhar which is located in the sub-tropical rainforest zone is one of the most prone areas to flood due to excessive rain.

As per the Department of Disaster Management inadequate river protection wall, temporary settlement along river banks, poor quality of constructions and absence of early warning system, lack of community awareness on its vulnerability, absence of hazard identification maps are some of the shortcomings.

In addition, building settlements in low-lying and flood prone areas near river banks, in storm water/ natural drainage pathways, absence of storm water drainage system, unplanned development and lack of insurance in case of flood damages are some of the other causes.

In August this year, a thirty-five-year-old mother and her three-year-old daughter lost their lives due to flood in Benporung village in Wangphu Gewog,. According to the husband of the deceased, Nidup Phuntsho, tremendous and premature pouring of rain in the summer are due to climate change.

He also said that heavy and untimely rain has caused several tragedies and poses great risks to their lives and properties. He added that timely flood awareness programs will help save many lives and reduce damages.

A similar tragedy occurred to 48-year-old Tshering Yangzom from Gomdar gewog, where her house was buried by muck following a flood incident.

According to former dzongkhag disaster management officer Yonten Phubtsho, predicting weather phenomenon has become erratic due to the changing climate and weather patterns due to climate change. He said low lying places like Samdrupcholing and Samrang Gewogs have particularly become more prone to disasters such as floods.  

The Dzongkhag chief agriculture officer, Saha Bir Rai, also said that farmers have been increasingly affected by climate change as crops and fruits’ growth have been hampered over the years. He, however, added that the dzongkhag officials intervene and try to mitigate the issues.

55-year-old Tashi Lhamo from Lauri gewog also shared that the rainfalls have become erratic and untimely. She added that the weather has also become hotter compared to the past.

In 2022, five people lost their lives while five households lost their paddy yields. Similarly, in 2019 two houses were washed way through floods while the Gewog Meeting Hall of Gomdar was completely damaged and farm roads eroded.

In 2009, 1.0842 acres of farm land, 400 arecanut trees, and maize and paddy field were destroyed while the farm road from Phuntshogthang to Dungkarling was damaged. In 2010, 3 houses affected, 3.05 acres of wet land destroyed.

The damages have increased over the years and farmers living in these rural pockets are increasingly feeling the brunt of this change in climate for which they do not play any role.

The story is funded by Bhutan Media Foundation’s climate change reporting grant.