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EWS in Mangdechhu and Chamkharchhu by yearend

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10 out of 25 dangerous glacial lakes are located in the Mangdechhu and Chamkharchhu basins

Flood: A fully operational early warning system (EWS) each will be in place in the Mangdechhu and Chamkharchhu basins by the end of this year that will give the residents sufficient time to evacuate in case of a flood.

The project is funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which held its annual seminar in Thimphu to share the project’s progress, yesterday.

The Mangdechhu and Chamkharchhu basins were chosen for the project as 10 of the 25 potentially dangerous glacial lakes in Bhutan are located in the headwaters of the two rivers – seven in the Mangdechhu and three in the Chamkharchhu. The EWS will provide a real time or near real time warning to notify the people of approaching floods.

Mangdechhu and Chamkharchhu basins Courtesy: JICA

Six sirens and three automatic water level stations (AWLS) are being installed in the Chamkharchhu basin. Similarly, the Mangdechhu basin will have three sirens and two AWLS.

“Most of the works have been completed and the system will be operational by the end of 2015,” project manager Karma Dupchu said. “Probability of flood events are constantly increasing, thus resulting in increased flood risks,” he said.

A Japanese meteorological satellite “Himawari 8” will be installed to receive data from the AWLS and transmit them to the national weather flood forecasting centre (NWFFWC) to be based in Thimphu. The centre will be operational by early next year.

“The centre will be the hub for information dissemination related to all hydro-met events in Bhutan,” the project manager said. However, the project’s cost has not been revealed as most of the inputs come in the form of technical expertise and equipment from Japan.

The risks of glacial lake outbursts flood (GLOF) were also highlighted in the seminar, describing the hazards from GLOFs as an urgent environmental and economic issue. However, according to officials, there are presently limited or no climate monitoring stations in the northern region where the disasters have its roots.

The current observation network in Bhutan, it was said, was inadequate in terms of spatial coverage and representatives.

The project manager said the EWS was necessary as most fertile agricultural land, infrastructure such as hydropower plants, roads and airports are located along the valleys. Over 70 percent of the settlements, he said, was along the main drainage basins and is therefore at high risk to flooding.

Speaking at the seminar, the chief guest, economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk said that disasters are going to be part of life and that the only way to confront them is to be prepared.

“We never know that disasters can strike tomorrow or in twenty years,” he said. Lyonpo said that the climate change is making the GLOF situation worse every day.

A recent study shows that glaciers in the Chamkharchhu basin have decreased by 28 sq. km over a period of 30 years from 1980 to 2010. This decrease is even more dramatic than the 23 percent total glaciers area decrease observed in the country.

A similar system has been in place in the Punatshangchhu basin with help from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

By MB Subba

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