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Countries like Bhutan should step up adaptive measures to respond to the threats of climate change 

Climate change: Bhutan could lose over six percent of its Gross Domestic Product annually by 2100 due to melting glaciers and climate change induced extremes according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) climate change and economics report for South Asia.

Changing climate threatens key development sectors

Countries like Bhutan should step up adaptive measures to respond to the threats of climate change 

Climate change: Bhutan could lose over six percent of its Gross Domestic Product annually by 2100 due to melting glaciers and climate change induced extremes according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) climate change and economics report for South Asia.

“Without capacity to cope with climate change, south Asian countries like Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal are likely to suffer extreme whether events,” ADB climate change and disaster risk management division’s director, Preety Bhandari said recently in a video conference to journalists attending a climate change press tour in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

“These countries will be lashed by flooding, landslides and reduced energy production from hydropower because of climate change effects,” Preety Bhandari said.

Going by the report’s findings both hydropower and tourism industry, the highest revenue earners, are going to bear the brunt of climate change. Besides, climate change can also affect agriculture, which employs over 69 percent of the country’s population.

“The country’s slope dominated agricultural activities and heavy reliance on glacier fed lakes for hydropower, tourism and water could face immense challenges in the coming decades without global efforts to slow the climate change,” said ADB vice president for knowledge management and sustainable development, Bindu Lohani in a news release.

Without changes to current global behaviour, Bhutan would see an average loss of 1.4 percent of GDP annually by 2050.  The loss could have already yawned to 6.6 percent of its annual GDP by 2100.

The annual loss however could be constricted to 1.7 percent by 2100 if proper mitigation and adaptation measures are embraced. “Reducing the economic losses in south Asia is possible only if the global community succeeds in keeping the mean temperature rise to 2 degree Celsius or less under Copenhagen-Cancun agreement,” ADB’s report on assessing the costs of climate change and adaption in south Asia states.

Retreat of glaciers could affect lives, settlements, farms and hydropower. Degradation of the country’s many river systems would also affect water availability and tourism.

“The potential risk of costly economic damage from GLOFs on key development sectors such as agriculture, hydropower and forestry is mounting,” ADB’s news release states.

Hydropower

The report on assessing the cost on climate change and adaptation in South Asia states, Bhutan is highly vulnerable to climate change because of its mountain ecosystems and high dependency on hydropower.

“The immediate impact on hydropower is at threat from glacier melting and perturbation in natural water sources,” the report states. As per the news release, higher temperatures melting the glaciers faster and loss of snow cover because of shorter winter would undermine hydropower generation.

Agriculture

While higher temperatures and carbon dioxide levels are predicted to increase rice production in Bhutan and India until 2030, rice yield is likely to decline gradually by 2050. By 2080, tropical and subtropical regions of Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka could see rice yield decline by over 23 percent.

“Occurrences of GLOF from glacier retreat coupled with rising temperature would cause much damage to cropland as well as livestock loss eventually undermining country’s food security,” report on costs of climate change and adaptation states.

In Bhutan rice yield loss per hectare by 2030 could mount to 3.2kg, 12.6 kg in 2050 and 22.5kg by 2100 in low altitude.  Similarly, rice yield in both mid and higher altitude could also lose by 11.3kg and 1.8kg per hectare by 2100.

Bhutan is also likely to be battered with rising numbers of landslides and land degradation because 31 percent of its agricultural land being located on slopes.

“Climate change-infused events in Bhutan like GLOF and landslides would indirectly affect the health of the Bhutanese communities as a result of undermined food security caused by drying out of smaller streams and springs,” the report cautions.

Health

With rise in the temperature, malaria and vector borne diseases are likely to spread from lowlands of southern region to higher elevations.

“Bhutan could see significant rise of dengue and malaria,” ADB’s report predicts.

According to the report, annual morbidity from dengue may increase to 20,150 individuals with 178 deaths by 2090 in Bhutan. The report also projects 11,299 persons likely to suffer from malaria by 2090 with 74 fatalities by 2030.

The report urges South Asian countries to step up adaptive measures in response to climate threats such as introduction of drought and flood resistant crop varieties, increased efficiency and management in energy sector, improved surveillance and monitoring of disease and vectors. ADB also recommends protection of groundwater sources and promotion of use of recycled water.

“Countries must respond individually and collectively to cope with rising sea levels, disrupted water, food and energy supply and increased disease,” Bindu Lohani said.

Tempa Wangdi, Bumthang

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