As the Thorthomi glacier near Punakha Dzong, Bhutan is noted by scientists to be melting rapidly due to climate change, grave concern is now being expressed over the threat of a glacial lake outburst flood, which is caused by a sudden and large release of water held under a glacier.
Dowchu Dupka, Engineer with the Bhutanese Ministry of Geology and Mines: People term it as the tsunami from the sky. If this whole glacier melts, which it will do in the course of time that could create the worst-case scenario.
Karma, Bhutanese village resident: When it comes to myself, I may be able to run away but we worry for our elderly relatives who may not be in a apposition to escape immediately. When they talk about the likely chance of a lake bursting, I am terrified.
Dzongpon Ugey, Bhutanese farmer: When I built this house two years ago, no experts from the outside had ever visited this area and so I was not aware of the dangers of flooding. Now that I know the danger, I really regret building it here.
Dowchu Dupka, Engineer with the Bhutanese Ministry of Geology and Mines: The plan is to install sensors at the source here as well as a little bit further downstream that would give enough lead time for the settlements or for the people to evacuate.
Such an event would destroy the historic, administrative, and religious center of the Punakha district, including the sacred Punakha Dzong Buddhist monastic temple.
In addition, forests and ancient villages downstream from the lake would suffer the impact of an overwhelming rush of river water due to the so-called “mountain tsunami.”
According to a report published by the International Center for integrated Mountain Development and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), 24 out of 2,674 glacial lakes in Bhutan are at risk of bursting, with other experts saying that Bhutan’s glaciers are retreating on average 30 meters each year.
In an effort to protect the Bhutanese people, the government hired US-based Sutron Corporation in April to install a glacier lake outburst flood early warning system for the Punakha district region.
We pray for the safety of the Punakha Dzong and all Bhutanese villagers of this beautiful and special place. May we quickly reverse these harmful warming effects through our conscientious actions to exist harmoniously with the environment.
In an August 2008 interview by Ireland’s East Coast FM Radio, as on previous occasions, Supreme Master Ching Hai spoke of the decisive actions needed to avert such forecasts of global warming calamity.