Cli­mate Change Ini­tia­tive

Bhutan is im­ple­ment­ing the world’s largest cli­mate change project. Does the coun­try re­ally need it?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Sarah B. Haider The writer is a Karachi-based jour­nal­ist.

Across the globe, cli­mate change poses a se­ri­ous threat to the en­vi­ron­ment as well as pub­lic health. Sadly, how­ever, not all coun­tries in the world are aware of its reper­cus­sions. The change in cli­mate can af­fect en­tire com­mu­ni­ties but the people who live in im­pov­er­ished con­di­tions are the most sus­cep­ti­ble. To tackle this press­ing is­sue, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion ini­ti­ated an ac­tive pro­gram in which some seven coun­tries, in­clud­ing Bhutan, are tak­ing part to re­duce health-re­lated risks caused by cli­mate change. In fact, de­spite be­ing a small coun­try, Bhutan has planned to em­bark on im­ple­ment­ing the world’s largest cli­mate change adap­ta­tion project.

Cli­mate change can af­fect people’s health in many ways. For in­stance, it can in­duce ex­treme weather con­di­tions which can have dire con­se­quences on people’s health. Bhutan’s ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion, i.e. the moun­tain­ous ecosys­tem of the east­ern Hi­malayas, makes it vul­ner­a­ble to a wide range of mi­cro-cli­matic con­di­tions within its three dis­tinct cli­matic zones. The tem­per­a­ture of the south­ern belt re­mains even through­out the year and the zone re­ceives con­sid­er­able rain­fall while the weather re­mains hot and hu­mid. The cen­tral in­ner Hi­malayas have a tem­per­ate and cool cli­mate and it re­ceives aver­age rain­fall. To­wards the north­ern re­gion, there is less rain­fall.

Due to cli­mate change, how­ever, the mean tem­per­a­ture has started to rise which brings forth a lot of health risks, di­rectly and in­di­rectly. For in­stance, heat waves can threaten the vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion while runoffs caused by storms can dis­turb the sewage sys­tems. This can af­fect al­most

all as­pects of pub­lic health.

Bhutan has been a vic­tim of floods for a long time. It is home to ap­prox­i­mately 2,674 gla­cial lakes, out of which some 24 are deemed po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous. Since the late twen­ti­eth century, a change in cli­mate has re­sulted in the warm­ing and re­ces­sion of Bhutan’s glaciers which are a sig­nif­i­cant re­new­able source of wa­ter for the rivers in the coun­try.

A rise in tem­per­a­ture has led to the melt­ing of these glaciers, re­sult­ing in fre­quent and in­tense gla­cial lake out­burst floods (GLOFs), thus re­peat­edly ex­pos­ing the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion to dis­eases and healthre­lated risks. More­over, cli­mate change also leads to flash floods and land­slides dur­ing the mon­soon sea­son.

There are cer­tain key health con­cerns as­so­ci­ated with cli­mate change in Bhutan which are es­ca­lat­ing with the pas­sage of time. As a re­sult of GLOFs, vec­tor-borne dis­eases like dengue and malaria and wa­ter­borne dis­eases, con­tracted by ei­ther drink­ing or com­ing into di­rect con­tact with con­tam­i­nated wa­ter, are a ma­jor con­cern. The rise in tem­per­a­ture has es­pe­cially con­vo­luted the con­trol of vec­tor-borne dis­eases in the coun­try. For in­stance, dur­ing the flood sea­son, the people of Bhutan are ex­posed to two types of malaria – Plas­mod­ium fal­ci­parum, which is more se­vere in na­ture and ac­counts for 30-60 per­cent of the cases and Plas­mod­ium vi­vax which is be­hind more than 50 per­cent of the cases. Ad­di­tion­ally, Bhutan is fac­ing the ris­ing threat of dengue as well due to cli­mate change. With the first case of dengue be­ing re­ported in 2004, Bhutan cur­rently faces this dis­ease as an en­demic. The prob­lem par­tic­u­larly wors­ens dur­ing the mon­soons.

As for wa­ter-borne dis­eases, they are mainly caused by the over­flow of sew­er­age wa­ter and dis­eases like di­ar­rhea have be­come a ma­jor threat to the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion. Ow­ing to these fac­tors, the govern­ment of Bhutan deemed it nec­es­sary to strengthen the ca­pac­ity to iden­tify and con­tain cli­mate change re­lated health out­comes in the coun­try.

Funded through the Least De­vel­oped Coun­tries Fund ( LDCF) and ad­min­is­tered by the Global En­vi­ron­ment Fa­cil­ity ( GEF) with an in­vest­ment of US $ 11,491,200, the project en­ti­tled ‘Ad­dress­ing the Risks of Cli­mate-in­duced Dis­as­ters through En­hanced Na­tional and Lo­cal Ca­pac­ity for Ef­fec­tive Ac­tions (2014-2017)’ will be the world’s largest cli­mate change adaption project.

Jointly signed be­tween the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram (UNDP), the Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness Com­mis­sion and the Na­tional En­vi­ron­ment Com­mis­sion of Bhutan, the project aims at keep­ing the people and the con­cerned au­thor­i­ties wellinformed about the dan­gers as­so­ci­ated with cli­mate change. More­over, the project also in­tends to pro­vide a bet­ter sur­veil­lance of the en­vi­ron­men­tal changes tak­ing place in the coun­try so that the govern­ment can is­sue warn­ings and take pre­ven­tive mea­sures early on to min­i­mize the dam­age.

One of the ob­jec­tives of the project is to train health­care providers and equip them with the re­quired tools to han­dle health is­sues caused due to cli­mate change. The project iden­ti­fied cer­tain ar­eas of adap­tive ca­pac­ity so that those ar­eas could be tar­geted to make the project ef­fec­tive and im­pact­ful. These in­clude the collection of metro­log­i­cal and sur­veil­lance data, as Bhutan has very limited metro­log­i­cal data and sparsely lo­cated metro­log­i­cal sta­tions.

Sec­ond, the project aims to tap more re­sources as there is a dearth of hu­man and fi­nan­cial re­sources for in­te­grat­ing cli­mate change risks into all lev­els of health ac­tiv­i­ties.

Third, the project in­tends to main­stream cli­mate change by in­cor­po­rat­ing the phe­nom­e­non into na­tional pro­grams that do not take cli­mate change into ac­count at present. For ex­am­ple, cli­mate change aware­ness will be in­tro­duced in the Na­tional Vec­tor-borne Dis­ease Con­trol Pro­gram ( VDCP), ARI and di­ar­rheal dis­ease pro­grams and wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion pro­grams.

Lastly, the project aims to cre­ate co­or­di­na­tion by in­tro­duc­ing a new en­vi­ron­men­tal health pro­gram in the Min­istry of Health to co­or­di­nate and im­ple­ment cli­mate and health ini­tia­tives.

The pro­gram will also fo­cus on tak­ing use­ful mea­sures to min­i­mize the risk of floods and land­slides in Phuentshol­ing and the neigh­bor­ing in­dus­trial es­tate of Pasakha. Sub­se­quently, it will make the com­mu­nity more re­silient by de­sign­ing and im­ple­ment­ing wa­ter har­vest­ing, stor­age and dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tems in some vil­lages. Un­der the said ini­tia­tive, it is also ex­pected that the qual­ity, anal­y­sis and dis­sem­i­na­tion of in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing cli­mate change will be im­proved in a timely and re­li­able fash­ion.

As for the out­comes of the project, Bhutan ex­pects to in­crease aware­ness and ca­pac­ity of health work­ers and the com­mu­nity to tackle cli­mate-re­lated health is­sues as early as pos­si­ble. What is more, the project will as­sist the govern­ment in plan­ning and sus­tain­ing its Vec­tor-borne Dis­ease Con­trol Pro­gram. Whether or not Bhutan suc­ceeds in achiev­ing the goals set by the pro­gram re­mains to be seen.

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