Climate change issues not getting the limelight it deserves

News reporting on climate change issues is apparently much less compared to the news coverage on crimes and political issues. This was pointed out during a recent brainstorming session conducted by Bhutan and Media and Communications Institute (BMCI) which consisted of journalists from media houses, representatives from environmental organizations and media students from Sherubtse College.

The session pointed out that new initiatives or activities to mitigate the global problem to help people adapt to changing climate issues are rarely covered by the media.

A communications specialist from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD),Gopilal Acharya, said that the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, where Bhutan is located, also known as the “Third Pole” is of the greatest concern for the entire world. Renowned scientists have predicted the shortage of water, food and energy in the Himalayan region in the future due to the impacts of climate change.

There have been examples of glacier outburst floods, landslides and changing climatic patterns in Bhutan in the last few years. There are also some examples of mitigation strategies, like that carried out in lowering water levels in Raphstreng Lake. An outburst flood from Thorthormi into Raphstreng could easily cause the lower lake to overflow. The combined outpouring of melt water and rock debris could be even more devastating than the 1994 flood. Similarly, the region is prone to major disasters as the Himalayas are the source of the largest rivers in Asia.

Farmer Sangay Duba, a retired agriculture expert from Yusipang, said, “It used to snow as thick as 4 feet and now there is no snow. The frost could be noticed by early September but now the frosts are hardly seen. I may not know much, but I feel this is because of climate change.”

He said that agriculture in Bhutan is now heavily dependent on irrigation system due to unreliable rainfall. He further added that in places, like Yusipang, there were no irrigation systems up until recently as the farmers are used to rely on the timely rainfall. “When that doesn’t happen they fail to channel water and the agriculture becomes difficult for the year.”

While the knowledge on climate change might not reach to every rural community, however, organizations, like the Tarayana Foundation, ICIMOD, Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), have been able to engage communities on climate change issues through their projects and research activities.

Tarayana Foundation has been working with about 300 villages in 16 districts. They have been working with rural villages that have difficult access to road or electricity. The foundation has been working on gravity ropeways, eco-sanitation, biogas, solar dryer, pico hydro projects, and educating the rural communities about energy saving and efficient usage of resources.

ICIMOD has been working closely on various mitigation strategies, like geospatial, livelihoods and ecosystem services in Bhutan and around the region. According to Gopilal Acharya, mountain issues are not recognized as a regional or national or international priorities, and are marked only once or twice in the United Nations’ Conference on Sustainable Development, but he said mountains play a big political role which will only intensify in the future.

The reasons that the climate change issues are rarely covered in media is because of the inadequate information which are acquired through mere phone calls, assumptions or generic data reports. Experts point out that there is a difficulty in getting the information from the official records which are recorded in the ministries. Journalists who report on environmental issues should be frequently trained and updated about the understanding of climate change and other related areas, as pointed out during the brainstorming session.

BMCI hopes to conduct such workshops in the future and bring together environmental workers, farmers, policy makers and journalists to hold discussions on environmental issues and to build capacity for climate change reporting.

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