Alarms ring of glacial floods

Published on May 01 2009 // Main News

Thimhu, May 01, 2009: Last year, when environmentalists gathered in Thimphu, they had warned of outburst and flood out of glacial lakes in Bhutan, which has begun to show hints now. 

Global warming heightens glacial lake burst risks

Global warming heightens glacial lake burst risks

On early morning Thursday, the burst of Gortho lake in Tshojo glacial and swelling of Gortho river, a tributary of Phochu, panicked hundreds of people in Punakha and Wangduephodrang.

Though, the smaller flood did little destruction, it has warned for possible greater disaster from the bursting of the glacial lakes due to global warming. 

The government officials had to asked people along the Punatsangchu and Phochu River move to higher and safer grounds. Schools and offices also remained closed for the day.

King, Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley, the Home Minister and the Chief Operations Officer of the RBA Batoo Tshering, the Chief of Police and armed forces rushed to the scene.

The water level had risen by 2.1 meters as compared to six meters in summer but dry-season flood should in no way be treated normal.

A recent geology study mentioned that the natural dam in Lunana, separating the glacial lakes Thorthormi and Rapstreng, is today only 32.5 m thick. Five years ago, in 2003, the wall was 74 m thick. This has rung the alarm bells of possible glacial flood.

According to studies burst of natural wall separating Thorthormi and Raptstreng lakes would pour over 53 million cubic meters of water down the valleys of Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Tsirang and Dagana.

The 1994 Punakha flood, flowing 18 million cubic meters, killed 22 people and damaged 1,700 acres of agriculture and pastureland, and public infrastructure.

To be better prepared, government plans to set up automatic sirens in the villages down Lunana area in Punakha, which will go off, warning people, at the first hint of any impending floods in the area. District officials and concerned agencies are now identifying safe zones where people could move in the event of flood.