Mountain men and women are impacted differently by climate change

Climate change has different impacts on men and women while they have different abilities to respond to the impacts

Mountain men and women are impacted differently by the effects of climate change and thus have different roles and responsibilities to play in the society.

This was highlighted during a Climate change adaption and gender plenary, at the Bhutan+ 10 summit, “Gender and Sustainable Mountain Development in a Changing World”.

Most of the members of the plenary agreed that gender lens is extremely important because it shows not only the differences between men and women, but also other power relationships in the society at large.

While climate change has different impacts on men and women especially in the mountain context, both women and men need different resources in order to adapt to changes. Many agreed that gender issue should be addressed widely in every climate change negotiation or policy decision.

One of the members of the plenary, Dr. Andrea Nightingale of the University of Edinburg, Scotland, said if people do not see gender being integrated in National Adaptation Plan of Actions (NAPA) and Local Adaptation Plan of Actions (LAPA), it is because UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) fails to address gender issues.

“IPCC, which advises many climate change negotiations, cannot include generic statements and there are few scientific data related to gender impacts of climate change.

Dr. Andrea Nightingale said women should not be projected as vulnerable but must look at their potentials and how they have been coping.

Another member, Ms. Elbegzaya Batjiargal of the Mountain Partnership, Central Asia Hub, said in Central Asia, where 90% of the territory is mountainous it is still not sure to what extent mountain women are affected.

“Gender disaggregated data and good researches are required to support effective policy making,” she said.

A report, released by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) earlier this year called “Women at the frontline of Climate Change,” revealed that women are most likely to suffer from Climate Change, but they are also the most capable of creating change and adaption within their communities.

The UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, during the launch of the report said women often play a stronger role than men in the management of ecosystem services and food security.

He said sustainable adaptation must focus on gender and the role of women if it is to become successful.

“Women’s voices, responsibilities and knowledge on the environment and the challenges they face will need to be made a central part of governments’ adaptive responses to a rapidly changing climate,” said Achim Steiner.

Further, the Bhutan National Human Development 2011 also highlighted that women in general will experience a higher level of adverse impacts of climate change but has better ability to adapt to climate change.

The report states that women experience a higher level of impact due to their social, economical and cultural circumstances. It says poor access to resources, limited mobility, education, restricted rights and low level of participation in the decision making process are some factors that could contribute especially to their vulnerability to the negative impacts of climate change.

During the Plenary session, Dr. Govind Kelkar of the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), India, said even though mountain women have some advantages over women in the plains, they also face mountain specific challenges to adaption.

She said mountain women have more social mobility, less patriarchy, more engagement in outside activities but also face challenges to adaption such as limited exposure to markets, men’s outmigration, and limited access to infrastructure, and greater dependence on natural resources.

The Bhutan National Human Development 2011 also highlighted that gender roles create opportunities for climate adaptation.

It says women are considered to possess valuable knowledge and have comprehension about managing water and forest resources, soil conservation, social networking, and nurturing children.

“Considering the special vulnerabilities and opportunities, it is crucial that adaptation plans and programs consider the different roles, needs, adaptive capacity, knowledge and perspective of men and women,” states the report.

Bhutan’s draft revised National Adaptation Program of Action includes the need to recognize gender balance, especially in the implementation of developmental activities and in the participation of both men and women. published in Business Bhutan

Bhutan’s most dangerous glacial lake tamed, finally

[This story was published in Business Bhutan on 20 October 2012, and can be read at]

In a span of four working seasons, around 1,000 workers, including 123 soldiers were deployed to reduce the water level of the Lake which was posing a catastrophe in the making

The last spade of debris was cleared and the last blocks of boulders were removed. As the men dusted their worn-down boots and packed their bags to go their own separate ways, they all had one common feeling- they were leaving behind a tamed lake that once challenged to take thousands of lives and cause colossal destruction downstream.

The Job was done. Some 4500meters above sea level the 1,000 Bhutanese workers successfully reduced the water level of the most dangerous glacial lake in Bhutan by 5 meters, the end to a set target five-year project.

Downstream, Punakha valley breathed a sigh of relief. The valley had already seen a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) in 1994 which claimed 20 lives and caused irreparable damages to infrastructure and livestock.

The destruction of the GLOF this time, if untamed, would have been three times more.

The Project Manager of the lake mitigation project, Dowchu Drukpa, said it has been a hard five year period with every year bringing new challenges and difficulties.

Among others, difficulties the workers faced include heavy rain falls, heavy snow cover, massive landslides, cold weather and road blockages.

He said the achievement of the project is expected to reduce the extent of damage downstream in the event of an unforeseen glacial lake outburst.

“Despite the unpredictable weather conditions and challenges of working in a remote high altitude and inhospitable work environment, we have managed to reduce the water level of the lake by the set target over a period of 4 working seasons,” said Dowchu Drukpa.

He said, with the total water level reduced by 5meters, it is estimated that the total volume of water released is 17mn cubic meters, almost equal to the volume of water discharged by the 1994 GLOF of 18mn cubic meters.

“The volume of water released in the span of four working seasons is equal to the 1994 outburst and this means we have released a lot,” said Dowchu Drukpa.

It took about 300 workers each working season to successfully lower the water level of the lake. Each year the workers had 2-3 months of manual working season. Workers had to work from 8 am to 4 pm everyday.

“Every year we had different workers but there were some who worked for two seasons also,” said Dowchu Drukpa.

The project to artificially reduce the water level of Thorthormi Lake began in 2008.

The initial year of the project started with technical assessment of the site and only by the second year some 300 workers were recruited.

During the first year of the working season in 2009, workers were able to reduce the water level by 87 centimeters while in the following years water levels were lowered by 1.3 meters and 1.45 meters respectively.

“The initial working season was tough because as it was the start of the project and there were many things to be done,” Dowchu Drukpa said.

With a total of 3.68 meters achieved by the third year, 1.32 meters were left for the workers to complete the whole project.

This year, with support from the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA), around 123 soldiers helped reduce the water level and achieve the target of 5 meters although half the numbers of regular workers were in attendance.

The job is done but it didn’t come without a cost.

In 2010, three men died in a span of four months due to altitude sickness and many more were hospitalized because of the working conditions.

The deaths raised a lot of questions on the safety of the workers. Subsequentlty the project management initiated various programs of which one was to set up transit medical camps at two different locations.

A transit medical camp was set up at 3,900 meters before the highest pass toward Lunana and the other was set up after the highest pass at around 4,100 meters.

“After the incident, lessons were learned and we did everything possible to make it safer for the workers,” Dowchu Drukpa said. He said a through medical check-up was carried out for all the workers before sending them up north. At the base camp they were further checked and were allowed to work only if found fit.

Dowchu Drukpa said even though the work is complete regular monitoring of the lake will continue as the debris may start to recollect and water levels may rise again.

A series of studies conducted by the Department of Geology and Mines, Ministry of Economic Affairs, in collaboration with international research institutes in the late 1990’s and early 2000, revealed that Thorthormi lake is among the most dangerous glacial lakes in the country.

The studies thus recommended for construction of a spillway channel to reduce GLOF threats for the lake. It was then that the artificial lowering of the lake was prioritized under the National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA) with funding for the Least Developed Countries Fund/ Global Environment Facility and co-financing by the United Nations Development Program, Austrian Development Cooperation, World Wildlife Fund Bhutan and the Royal Government of Bhutan.

Thorthormi Lake is located in the headwater of Pho Chhu sub-basin at an altitude of around 4,428 meters above sea level in the remote Lunana area of northern Bhutan. The lake poses the most pertinent GLOF threat and in the event of an outburst has a potential to cause unprecedented damage to the valleys of Pho Chhu and Punatsang Chhu