Govt to reassess all 2,674 glacial lakes and install additional early warning systems

Govt also assures that both P I and P II are flood proof and insured

After the Lemthang Glacial Lake Overflow Flood (GLOF) that occurred on the Mochhu river on 28th June, the government has decided to go for a reassessment of all 2,674 glacial lakes in Bhutan’s highlands and also install Early Warning Systems (EWS) in other river basins.

The data so far is that of the 2,674 lakes around 25 are considered to be a threat or dangerous.

Minister for Economic Affairs (MoEA) Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said, “We will be reassessing the 2,674 lakes as some time has passed since the last assessment and we will categorize them as being dangerous, medium dangerous and safe.”

The minister also said that the government would be studying all river basins to see if there is any risk and also need for Early Warning Systems. The government in cooperation with JICA is planning to install EWS along the Mangdechu and Chamkarchu river basins as 10 of the 25 dangerous lakes are in these two river basins. One lake is present at the head of the Kurichu basin.

The government is also planning to install more EWS machines and other equipment along the Mochu and Phochu. Currently Mochu has around three EWS and Mochu has around eight EWS. Lyonpo said that additional equipment would help to better monitor any potential GLOF in the future and where the flood had exactly reached. Around eight dangerous lakes are in the Phochu basin with another five in the Mochu basin.

Identifying a weak point, the minister said that when Lyonchhen during the flood had asked for the time the flood would reach Punakha Dzong or the projects, no definitive time could be given. The Minister said there was a need to work on this to be able to more correctly predict at what time the flood would reach at a particular location.

Lyonpo, who was personally monitoring the situation from the Hydromet Department, said that the recent Lemthang GLOF was a very good learning experience. He said it confirmed that it pays to be prepared as it would save lives and properties. He pointed out that the GLOF showed that the EWS on the Mochu basin worked perfectly fine.

The minister pointed out that people saw the huge boulders and timber at the source of the flood and panicked but the hydromet department accurately measured the water levels which showed no reason to worry as the water did not even reach the alert level well before the alarm level.

Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said that the government had decided to be cautious and follow the GLOF drill as ground reports from Gasa indicated huge boulder, mud and trees coming in the river with the GLOF. He said that they wanted to avoid any damage from any artificial dam of landslides, boulders and trees on the Mochu forming and then breaking open. Lyonchhen said such things had happened in the past. The PM said that eye witnesses at the source had seen around eight small bridges and big bridge being washed away. He said such precaution was necessary as the Hydromet would have no way of knowing if any such dam formed.

The Lemthang flood has also renewed concerns and fears on the safety of the Punatsangchu I and II projects which are under construction.

Saying that there was no reason to worry, Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said the hydrology and river flow information for up to 100 years were studied by the project. He said that in terms of dam design it would be able to withstand even a ‘pretty bad outburst.’

Lyonpo said both the projects were fully insured and the risks were offloaded to India. The PM also said that the insurance covered the total value of the project. Lyonchhen added that according to experts even if the river overflowed over the dam it would still stand strong.

The PM also gave an update on strengthening disaster preparedness in the country. He said that last year the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) with him as the Chairman had been established and there were also Dzongkhag Disaster Management Committees (DDMC). He said the government would strengthen disaster preparedness in the country by strengthening the NDMA at the national level and DDMA at the Dzongkhag level.

Lyonchhen said that during disasters communication was of utmost importance and so the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) was studying various options including the use of satellite phones. He said that land had been indentified for a National Control Center and handed over to DDM. The PM said that the idea is to ensure one place that is secure and isolated from any potential disasters to coordinate relief efforts.

The Minister for Information and Communication Lyonpo D.N Dhungyel said that his ministry was in the early stages of exploring a semi-permanent structure for Bhutan Broadcasting Service so that even in case the BBS main building was damaged it could still main TV and radio function in times of a major disaster.

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