Pakistan’s Punjab builds model villages to withstand disasters

Saleem Shaikh
Thomson Reuters Foundation – Thu, 22 Aug 2013

A model village after construction in flood-prone Dera Ghazi Khan district, Punjab province, Pakistan. PHOTO/Punjab Disaster Management Authority

DERA GHAZI KHAN, Pakistan (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Ayesha Fatima, a 29-year-old widow with two small children, burst into tears of delight when she was handed the key and ownership papers for her new home, a two-room, single-storey, disaster-resilient brick building.

Her former home, a mud-brick house, was washed away by devastating floods in 2010, forcing the family to flee for their lives, abandoning everything they owned except two goats.

While living in a makeshift tent outside a nearby primary school, Fatima’s husband died of pneumonia and she was reduced to begging to survive, she told Thomson Reuters Foundation in muted tones.

The village where Fatima now lives – ‘Basti Hote Lashari’ in Taunsa town in Dera Ghazi Khan district, 405 km (250 miles) from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad – is one of 22 model villages built to replace homes washed away by the floods.

Constructed with private-sector funds and technical expertise, the houses are strong and designed to withstand earthquakes and extreme climate events, including floods, as part of a “climate-compatible development” initiative by the Punjab provincial government.

Climate-compatible development focuses on “triple win” strategies that limit greenhouse gas emissions, build resilience and promote development at the same time.

Parts of Punjab have been hit yet again by monsoon flooding in recent weeks, underlining the need for measures like these to protect people, property and crops from natural hazards.

When Fatima moved into her new home, in June 2011, her role as the family breadwinner was transformed by the gift of two buffalos.

“I earn Rs800 ($8) a day by selling nine litres of buffalo milk and this is enough to feed my two children,” she said happily, while milking one of the animals. “My children have also resumed going to school in the model village.”

Thousands of other poor families also lost their homes to the 2010 floods, the worst in Pakistan’s history, which tore through Fatima’s village early one morning after days of torrential rain.

She was woken by a huge uproar and the cries of villagers: “Wake up … wake up, people … Floodwater is coming!”

“When I came out of my room, the gushing floodwater was just minutes away from our home. Getting hold of my two children and two goats, I fled to the higher ground along with my 54-year-old husband. We left everything behind to the floods,” she explained.

The family spent 45 days in a school building on higher ground. When she returned, she could see only mud bricks strewn around where her home had stood.


Some 1.9 million houses were damaged or destroyed by the 2010 monsoon floods, according to the National Disaster Management Authority. Around 2,000 people died and over 20 million were affected, more than one-tenth of the population, from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea.

The World Bank calculated the economic damage at over $9 billion.

With financial support from the non-government and corporate sectors, the Punjab government has built 22 disaster-resilient showcase villages in seven of the severely affected districts, drawing on expertise from two private firms, National Engineering Services Pakistan and Associated Consulting Engineers.

The villages, costing nearly Rs1.35 billion, contain 1,885 single-storey homes, which have been handed over to people who lost their houses in the 2010 floods. The villages have schools, health centres and other community infrastructure, replacing what the floods destroyed.

“These will show how such villages can be better planned, built to higher standards and with improved community infrastructure and facilities. Other facilities are biogas plants, solar energy systems, livestock sheds, covered sewerage, brick-paved streets, parks, play areas, markets and community centres,” said Mujahid Sherdil, director-general of the Punjab Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA).

“The corporate sector played a pivotal part by extending support in both cash and in kind for the construction of disaster-resilient houses,” he added.

Sherdil told Thomson Reuters Foundation from his office in Lahore, the provincial capital, that public relief operations after disasters were often delayed by lack of funds, but that businesses could play a bigger role by immediately making financial contributions to meet aid needs under their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes.

The private sector’s role in post-disaster reconstruction in 2010 showed it can help society cope with disasters, as well as providing resources, expertise and essential services for rebuilding afterwards, he said.


Dina Khan, manager of climate-compatible development projects in Pakistan for the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), told Thomson Reuters Foundation the Punjab PDMA had asked her organisation to help it incorporate climate resiliency into its post-disaster reconstruction efforts.

CDKN in turn uses management and engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald to prepare guidelines on reconstruction in hazard-prone areas of the province, and to assess the climate compatibility of model villages being built.

Arif Hasan, an independent architect, said this kind of approach addresses the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, use fewer resources and put up buildings that can withstand weather-related disasters.

“There is an urgent need for implementation of such guidelines in highly disaster-prone Pakistan that will help the country adopt climate-resilient construction methods in disaster-prone areas,” he added.

Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CDKN’s Asia director based in Islamabad, said Pakistan has inadequate guidelines for disaster risk reduction in the construction sector.

It is hoped the climate-compatible development initiative will pave the way for the country to adopt an effective national policy, and give the rural poor and local decision-makers the knowledge they need to reduce the impact of future disasters, he said.

“The Punjab government asked CDKN to help ‘build back better’ after the devastating floods in 2010,” he said. “Not only is this a strategic project for Pakistan, it is also a test case for climate-compatible development that promises to offer lessons for the international community.”

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development reporters based in Islamabad, Pakistan


Aid lacking in flood-hit Pakistan, fresh rains due

Saleem Shaikh
Thomson Reuters Foundation – Wed, 21 Aug 2013

A family carries their belongings as they wade through floodwaters in Dera Allah Yar, in the Jaffarabad district of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, Aug. 6, 2013. REUTERS/Amir Hussain


SIALKOT, Pakistan (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Saleema Bibi died at the age of just 29 when the roof of her house in Talwandi village in northeast Pakistan’s Sialkot district collapsed under heavy monsoon rains. Her husband and three children were badly injured.

“The roof of our house, where we all were sitting on a cot-bed, caved in after failing to withstand torrential rain that lasted for five hours,” sobbed Bibi’s husband, Muzzamil Raza, describing the tragedy that hit his family on Aug. 14.

As the monsoon brings seasonal downpours and floods across Pakistan, Sialkot – 192 km (122 miles) from Islamabad – is the worst-hit district in Punjab province, in terms of fatalities and property damage.

An estimated 200 villages in Sialkot are waist-deep in floodwater, which has damaged homes and public infrastructure, as well as rice, cotton and vegetable crops on thousands of acres, according to local disaster officials.

Emerging from Himachal Pradesh state in northern India, the ChenabRiver enters Pakistan after passing through Indian-administered Kashmir. It flows through Punjab province’s northeastern districts and joins the Indus River in Multan district in southeast Punjab.

According to Asjad Imtiaz Ali, chairman of the Federal Flood Commission, the Chenab has experienced its first flood in 30 years, following exceptional rains in its catchment area.

“The river broke its banks at different places as the water level rose, particularly after India released (on Aug. 14) surplus floodwater into the river in its territory, to the sheer surprise of the Pakistani authorities concerned and without prior intimation as required under the Indus Waters Treaty agreement,” Imtiaz Ali told Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Pakistan has suffered economic damages of more than $16 billion as a result of consecutive monsoon floods each year since 2010. Some 4,000 people were killed, thousands injured and millions displaced from their homes, according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2011-12.

This year, again, the swelling floods in the Indus River and its tributaries in Pakistan – the Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej – are leaving behind a trail of devastation.

As of Aug. 21, 118 people had been killed, 812 injured and over 399,000 affected in different parts of the country. An estimated 1,700 villages have been hit by flash floods, with many of them vanishing completely, according to the latest loss and damage report from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

Around 11,200 houses have been damaged fully or partially, and summer crops – rice, cotton, sugarcane, maize, peanut, millets, sunflower and vegetables – on over 325,000 acres of land have been devastated by heavy rains and flash floods.

Iftihar Ahmed, chairman of the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council, noted that prices of vegetables used in daily cooking have jumped 300 percent, raising “a serious threat of food insecurity” if damaged road and rail networks are not repaired urgently and financial support is not provided for farmers to re-sow their crops.

All rivers, including the Indus, are now flowing at full capacity, while the country’s two largest reservoirs, Mangla and Tarbela, in northern Pakistan are close to their maximum volume for the first time in many years.

People living near the reservoirs fear their homes will be washed away, as government authorities have asked them vacate the areas, amid the latest forecast for another spell of torrential rain during the last week of August in southern Punjab, eastern Balochistan and southern Sindh provinces.

The Punjab Disaster Management Authority said Mangla Dam and the Jehlum River had already overflowed on Aug. 15, flooding at least 500 houses in 12 residential areas of Kallar Syedan, a town in Rawalpindi district, a few kilometres east of Islamabad.

Nawaz Suleman, a resident of Dhoke Mistrian, one of the flooded suburbs, said the area looks like a collection of islands but local officials have not responded to pleas for families to be relocated to a safer place.


Flood Commission Chairman Imtiaz Ali said the coming bout of rainfall – due in the last week of August and first week of September and predicted to be the most intense so far of the ongoing monsoon – is likely to be catastrophic, as all the rivers are already in high flood and the reservoirs are brimming.

“Disaster management authorities have to take all possible measures to relocate people from vulnerable areas to safer locations and arrange for food items, medicines and water for emergency needs to avoid further death tolls,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation from Lahore, the capital city of Punjab province.

The floodwaters are now rushing southwards into Sindh province.

Sharjeel Memon, a spokesperson for the Sindh government, said from Karachi that the provincial authorities have declared an emergency at three main barrages – Guddu, Sukkur and Kotri – and have asked the Sindh Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority and the Sindh Irrigation Department to remain on high alert to cope with the emerging flood situation and provide relief.


Patchy aid responses by the disaster management authorities have drawn criticism from flood victims, humanitarian agencies and disaster risk management experts alike.

NDMA officials say they have taken adequate relief measures in flood-hit areas, but this claim has been met with scepticism.

The NDMA said 60 relief camps have been set up, housing 2,800 people. It has distributed nearly 23,000 tents among flood-hit families and provided them with 500 blankets.

But flood relief expert Sattar Zangejo said no substantial aid operations are being undertaken by the PDMAs in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, where he has been travelling to survey the situation for international humanitarian groups.

Zangejo worked with Oxfam and Plan International on relief and rehabilitation operations during the last three monsoon floods.

In Punjab, more than 90 percent of people have not received any assistance this time, and have had to relocate independently, he said.

“Despondency among the flood victims fleeing affected areas in Punjab and Sindh provinces was visible on their faces,” he said. “There is a clear absence of arrangements by the PDMAs for food items, medicines, clean drinking water and safe sanitation.”

There may be a bureaucratic reason for the delay in launching relief operations.

On Aug. 17, Ahsan Iqbal, Federal Minister for Planning and Development and Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission of Pakistan, told media in Islamabad that Rs. 16 billion (about $154.8 million) is urgently required by the NDMA for emergency flood operations.

“The federal finance ministry has been requested to make the required funds available and we hope it will release the funds soon to expedite relief and rehabilitation operations in flood-hit areas,” Iqbal said.

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are Islamabad-based correspondents specialising in climate change and development issues.


Northeast Pakistan hit by ‘surprise’ floods, as monsoon rains intensify

Saleem Shaikh
Thomson Reuters Foundation – Thu, 1 Aug 2013

A mud house surrounded by floodwater in flood-hit Narowal district, Punjab province. PHOTO/Punjab PDMA

SIALKOT, Pakistan (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – “We kept quivering with fear the whole night and could not sleep even a wink,” recalled Salma Zehra, a mother of five teenage children. The family trembled to think that the roof of their mud house could cave in at any time, as the rain lashed down in a huge thunderstorm.

By early morning on July 22, the house in Mehtabpur village in northeast Pakistan’s Sialkot district was waist-deep in water. The torrential downpour had left Zehra’s two buffaloes dead, the 45-year-old said in a shaky voice.

Another bout of heavy rain followed later that night. The Dek tributary of the Chenab River in Sialkot, 192 km (122 miles) from Islamabad, burst its banks, submerging more than 72 villages in the district.

Besides Sialkot, other districts in Punjab province have also suffered massive damage to crops across 1,000 hectares of land, as well as to properties. According to the district disaster management authorities of Sialkot, Gujranwala and Narowal, an estimated 400 villages have been flooded.

Officials have declined to give final figures for the losses, but say dozens have died and thousands of people remain stranded in the affected parts of the three districts. Some are starting to return home, but many houses have collapsed and must be rebuilt, they report.

Sialkot District Coordination Officer Iftikhar Ali Sahu told Thomson Reuters Foundation thousands of people had been trapped on the roofs of their houses during the worst of the flooding. “Mortality among cattle is high – the number of dead animals continued to rise as the floodwaters began to recede on July 26,” he added.

The situation in adjoining districts is just as bad. In Narowal alone, around 2,000 people were marooned on their rooftops in some seven villages a week ago.

Less than 30 percent of the floodwater has yet to recede, according to Mujahid Sherdil, director-general of the Punjab Provincial Disaster Management Authority.

Machines have been brought in to help drain water out of the flood-affected areas, and he hopes the task will be accomplished in the next two to three days, he told Thomson Reuters Foundation from Lahore.

Sherdil said the torrential rainfall had caused breaches of irrigation canals, streams and natural dams, and the floods had washed away crops, livestock, roads, bridges, buildings and even entire villages.

Farmers say surviving cattle in flood-hit areas are now at risk.

“Besides paddy, maize and vegetable crops, fodder fields are also underwater. This has created an acute shortage of fodder, and it is barely possible to save our cattle from the looming threat of hunger and disease,” said Zehra’s husband, Ghulam Abbas.


The above-normal monsoon rains in Punjab’s northeastern districts have taken weather experts by surprise.

“Last month, we predicted that this year monsoon rains across the country would remain normal with no possibility of flooding. But unexpected heavy rains in the northeastern districts are startling for us,” said Ghulam Rasul, a senior weather scientist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) in Islamabad. “This shows how monsoon rains have become erratic and unpredictable in timing, volume and intensity.”

Sherdil, head of the Punjab disaster management agency, said the heavy rains and flooding had caught them unprepared.

“We were closely following the weekly and monthly forecasts of PMD that never predicted heavy rains of unprecedented significance for July in northeastern parts, which have been nearly 40 percent above normal for the month,” he said.

It has been difficult to get aid into the affected areas due to damaged and flooded roads and bridges, he said. “Nevertheless, we left no stone unturned to get the emergency relief items including food, medicines, to the flood victims on boats – although (they arrived) a bit late,” he added.


In June 2012, scientists argued in the Nature Climate Change journal that global warming would make understanding changes in the South Asian monsoon more difficult.

They said the impacts of short- and long-term monsoon shifts would affect the lives of over a billion people in the region, who rely on rainfall for agriculture, hydropower generation, economic growth and basic human needs.

Understanding how the South Asian monsoon will alter due to climate change is necessary to cope with the effects, reduce the risk of disasters and safeguard people’s livelihoods, they underlined.

“Addressing the uncertainties in projected changes of the monsoon variability in coming years will remain a daunting challenge for climate scientists,” said Arshad Abbasi, a water and energy expert at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad.

Arshad Khan, the executive director of the Global Change Impact Study Centre (GCISC), the research arm of Pakistan’s Federal Climate Change Division, said the country is in the grip of unpredictable weather patterns.

Intense monsoon rains will be a common phenomenon, particularly on the country’s southern plains which lack water reservoirs and are highly vulnerable to floods, he warned.

And a spurt in the speed of glacial melt, due to rising global temperatures and above-normal monsoon rains, is likely to cause rivers to overflow and burst their banks across the country, he added.


Officials at the Climate Change Division, which operates under the oversight of the prime minister, said efforts are underway to tackle the vagaries of climate change across different sectors of the economy, particularly agriculture and water.

“Consultations are being made with national and provincial disaster management authorities, and officials of federal and provincial environment, agriculture, irrigation departments to implement national climate change policy to mitigate the impacts of changing weather patterns and erratic monsoon rains,” said a senior official, who coordinates policy at federal and provincial levels.

The Climate Change Division is developing climate adaptation plans for the agriculture, water and irrigation sectors, which will be implemented in Pakistan’s four provinces in collaboration with international NGOs and provincial government offices.

It is also working on programmes to ensure that climate change is considered in other sectors such as health and education, to make them more climate-resilient.

Abbasi of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute said the best ways to avert the growing threat of floods in Pakistan include efficient watershed management, reforestation in northern mountain areas and the revival of riverine forests.

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are Islamabad-based journalists specialising in climate change and development issues.


Ladakh Invites New Scarcities

Athar Parvaiz

LADAKH, India, Sep 24 2013 (IPS) – The Ladakh of today is a different world from the one Skarma Namgiyal remembers as a child. Back then, he had taken for granted the breathtaking beauty of its landscape, the purity of the cold mountain air, and the sweet taste of water in its streams.

Today, at 47 years of age, this resident of Tukcha village in Leh district in the north of Kashmir cannot believe they are digging borewells for water, using water to flush toilets in their homes in place of the dry toilets they had been accustomed to, and having to cope with sewage flowing right up to their houses.

Climate change, booming tourism and modern practices are wreaking havoc in this high altitude cold desert in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state. The average elevation in Ladakh is 11,000 ft above sea level and temperatures swing between minus 35 degrees Celsius in winters to 35 degrees in summer. Annual rainfall in the region is less than four inches.

Earlier, water from the melting glaciers would be enough to cater to the needs of the locals, Namgiyal tells IPS. But with less snowfall and warmer summers, some of the glaciers have vanished altogether while others too are fast melting.

“Look at Khardongla,” says Namgiyal’s neighbour Tsering Kushu. “It used to be a huge glacier. It is not there anymore.”

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Lowering Imja alone will not prevent GLOFs, say experts


KATHMANDU, Sept 22: A month ago, Keshav Raj Sharma, a hydrologist at the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DoHM), was about to sleep. His cell phone started buzzing. It was from an unknown number.

“Sir, are you sleeping?” said the caller, who introduced himself as a Dolakha-based journalist. “Tsho Rolpa Lake has just burst out; thousands of people are going to die. You must do something to save us, sir.”

Petrified by the potential devastation that Tsho Rolpa outburst might cause, Sharma restrained his fears; and just said, “Don´t worry; nothing is going to happen.”

As soon as he hung up the phone, Sharma contacted the field office, which was set up by the DoHM to monitor glacier activities in Tsho Rolpa. The field office dismissed rumors about Tsho Rolpa outburst. “Only then was I relieved,” says Sharma, recalling the night of August 15.

Although the news of Tsho Rolpa outburst proved to be a flash flood in the Tamakoshi River, the risk of Nepal´s most vulnerable glacial lake bursting and causing catastrophic devastation in the downstream valley still looms large. Om Ratna Bajracharya, former Director General of DoHM, believes Tsho Rola is still Nepal´s most dangerous glacial lake. “The risk from Tsho Rolpa is still higher than from any other glacial lake,” says Bajracharya. “It is getting bigger and bigger every year.”

In 2000, in a bid to avert the risk of a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) in the Tamakoshi River basin, the water level in Tsho Rolpa was lowered by three meters through a 70-meter-long canal, which has been channeled into the Rolwaling River.

“That was just a temporary measure,” says Bajracharya. “Unless we lower the water level in Tsho Rolpa by 17 meters, as suggested by a study report in the 1990s, safety of thousands of people living on the banks of the Tamakoshi river basin cannot be ensured.”

According to Kamal Budhathoki, former Deputy Director General (DDG) of DoHM, even if water level in Tsho Rolpa is lowered by just nine meters, the risk of GLOFs in the Tamakoshi River basin can be reduced to a great extent. “There is another report prepared by an American glaciologist in collaboration with DoHM experts. The report says lowering of water level in Tsho Rolpa by about 12 meters is sufficient,” says he.

However, instead of further lowering Tsho Rolpa, government authorities, under a US$ 7.2 million project funded by the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) of Global Environment Facility (GEF), are now working toward reducing the water level in Imja, another dangerous glacial lake in the Khumbu region, some 163 km from Kathmandu.

Some experts argue that Tsho Rolpa is situated at a relatively low altitude, which makes it more vulnerable than other high-altitude glacial lakes, including Imja. “The lower the altitude, the higher the risk of GLOF events,” explains Bajracharya. “Impact of global warming can be felt more in low-altitude glacial lakes.”

Going by what Bajracharya argues, Tsho Rolpa, situated at an altitude of around 4,500 meters, is more vulnerable to the effects of global warming. At an altitude of over 5,000 meters, glaciers that feed Imja are less exposed to rising temperature.

An expert, unwilling to be named, says Imja was chosen just because it caught the attention of national and international mountaineers. “Imja is in close proximity to climbing and trekking routes in the Khumbu region. Therefore, many people see melting glaciers there,” says he. “But, there are other glacial lakes that are more vulnerable. But, very few have noticed them.”

According to a 2009 report by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), apart from Tsho Rolpa and Imja, there are four more glacial lakes which are at the risk of GLOFs. These lakes include Thulagi, Lumding, Lower Barun and West Chamjong. Apart from gradual degradation of moraines, fast receding of glaciers has also rendered these lakes vulnerable.

Since 1964, at least 10 GlOF events have been recorded in Nepal. As the Himalayas face threats from rising temperature, minimizing the risk of GLOFs by lowering water levels, developing early-warning system in the downstream human settlements and empowering local communities to adapt to climate change seems necessary, say experts.

After Tsho Rolpa, Imja Lake will be lowered by three meters


KATHMANDU, Sept 20: Fearing massive destruction from a potential Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) in the Khumbu region, government authorities, assisted by a United Nations agency, are now accelerating efforts to lower the water level in Imja glacial lake by three meters.

This is the second time that water level of a glacial lake is being lowered in Nepal — more than a decade after the volume of water in Tsho Rolpa, risk of outburst of which led to a hue and cry among the local people in the late 1990s, was reduced. In 2000, water level of Tsho Rolpa was reduced by three meters through a 70-meter-long water canal, which has been channeled into the Rolwaling River.

After signing an agreement with the United Nationals Development Program (UNDP) in July this year, the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DoHM) has now begun a feasibility study to lower the water level of Imja, located at the altitude of 5,000 meters in the Khumbu region, about 160 km from Kathmandu.

As in Tsho Rolpa, water level of Imja, which could possibly affect thousands of people in Solukhumbu district in the event of a GLOF, will be lowered through a water canal. The 70-meter-long canal will be channeled into Imja khola, which originates from Imja Lake itself and gets bigger and wider after receiving glacier melting from other mountains, including Ama Dablam.

The feasibility study for reducing water volume in Imja will be followed by preparation of a detailed engineering design, which will decide what type of canal would be the most cost-effective. “If everything unfolds as planned, Imja Lake will be lowered by 2017,” said Rajendra Sharma, Senior Divisional Hydrologist at the DoHM. “Water level lowering will reduce the risk of a GLOF in Imja Lake.”

Lowering of water level in Imja is a part of a US$ 7.2 million project, funded by the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) of the Global Environment Facility. As part of the project, which will run until 2017 from 2013, early warning system will be developed in four districts in the Tarai — Siraha, Saptari, Udayapur and Mahottari — to protect people and their properties from GLOFs and flash floods in the future.

Experts say Imja Lake, which is believed to have been formed just about half a century ago, is vulnerable due to rapid expansion of its area combined with degradation of its moraine dam. According to a 2009 report prepared by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Imja has developed into a 1.01 square kilometer lake over the last 50 years. In 1956-1963, according to the same report, Imja was just a 0.03 square kilometer lake.

“The rate at which Imja Lake has been expanding is alarming,” says Kamal Budhathoki, former Deputy Director General of the DoHM. “Along with the area, the depth and water storage capacity of the lake is also increasing, which has posed threats of imminent devastation.” Budhathoki says glacier around Imja is receding much faster, which has made reduction of water volume in this glacial lake a much-needed measure.

Uttarakhand – a Himalayan tragedy


Athar Parvaiz

The Himalayas, the youngest mountain range in the world, are known for their landslides and earthquakes. In recent years these natural hazards have been exacerbated by reckless development activity and the impact of global warming on the Indian sub-continent, which has seen an unpredictable monsoon and a rise in extreme events. Some say it is an environmental disaster waiting to happen. In fact the disaster has already happened — in mid-June in India, during the peak tourist and pilgrimage season – flood waters and landslides ripped through the Indian Himalayan state of Uttarakhand causing widespread devastation.

As India surveys the aftermath of the tragedy, there is introspection of what kind of development the country should take to ensure that development does not come at the cost of the environment and human lives.

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NC’s Proposal Brings Mines Under The Scanner

The National Council (NC) that has again taken up the issue of mining and natural resources conservation has passed three recommendations with regards to the sector’s activities and future direction during its session on Thursday

Councilor Jigme Rinzin, chairperson of the council’s natural resources and environment committee said that it would recommend the impact, cost, benefits, and other related issues pertaining to the mining sector to the government.

The first recommendation is to form an ad hoc body in the NC for conducting a comprehensive cost benefit analysis of mining and quarrying, with special focus on its social, economic and environmental impacts.

The second recommendation states that the government must refrain from issuing both mining and quarrying licenses to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) companies until the Council had completed studying the sector.

It was learnt that a French company, Lafarge, had shown interest to tie up with a local mining company two years ago, but approval was not issued by the DGM since it was waiting for the mining and mineral policy to be adopted.

This is a deviation from the 10th session’s resolution, which recommended the government to freeze all kinds of licenses until all eight recommendations resolved in the 10th session were implemented.

While the remaining six recommendations resolved during the 10th session are being implemented, it has not been reflected this time.

The last recommendation was that the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) will conduct a performance audit report on the system of taxation in the mining sector. Many concerns were expressed that the mine and quarry owners were not paying correct taxes to the government.

A report was also prepared by the house on the socio economic and environmental assessment of mining and quarrying activities in the country, which was published in February this year.

The report includes issues and concerns of understatement of income, non-declaration of full sales proceeds, and discrepancies in the taxation system of captive mine owners.

The mining sector on an average contributes NU 200mn to the government as revenue.

The top five tax contributors from the private sector were all mining industries which included Jigme Mining Company Ltd, Eastern Bhutan Ferro Silicon Pvt. Ltd, SD Eastern Bhutan Coal Company Ltd, Druk Satair Corporation and Jigme Industries.

They contributed a total revenue of NU 227mn as taxes.

On the legality of imposing restrictions on mining activities by the Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) within their geographical jurisdiction, it is found that there is no conflict in the legal interpretation of the provisions of the Minerals Management Act 1995 and Local Government Act of Kingdom of Bhutan 2009.

In fact, the two are found to be supplementing and complementing each other. While the Dzongkhag Tshogdu has the authority to issue or deny environmental clearance in consultation with public, it has no authority to impose blanket restriction on mining activities within their geographical jurisdiction.

The authority to issue licenses rested only with the ministry.

While the DGM has the authority to issue mining license, it can do so only after environmental clearance is issued by the Dzongkhag Tshogdu.

The NC resolved that mineral resources are state properties and must be used in the most careful manner for the benefit of the country and people for all times to come.

It has called for a comprehensive study of the sector for making any subsequent decisions on the future direction of mining and quarrying activities in the country.