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Improving adaptive capacity and resilience in Bhutan Harsha Meenawat & Benjamin K. Sovacool

by on November 9, 2011

Meenawat and Sovacool talk about the unsettling changes that are happening right now in Bhutan due to climatic change.  The most catastrophic of which is the potential for glacier lakes to breach their dams and spill their entire contents on their valleys bellow.  The model used in their evaluation is Holling’s version of the resilience model.  Although efforts are being made to help the situation, I can’t help but to be distraught over the natural disasters that are inevitable.  Because Bhutan is contained in such a fragile ecosystem, natural disasters have dire effects.  For example, only 3% of the land is cultivatable, but 79% of their subsistence relies on it.  Those numbers alone give merit to the delicate balance of the environment and the natives relationship with it.  After the reading, I feel like Bhutan, because of it’s delicate environment, is the poster child for the early effects of global warming.  When disaster starts happening there, it will only ensue in other regions.  What was also interesting about the read was the fact that despite efforts, not much has been done or can be done to better the fragile system of Bhutan.  The only viable action that can be taken to to prepare villages with emergency equipment and educate residents.  Even in that aspect there are social hurdles, such as illiteracy and failure to educate women, that will be hard to overcome.


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  1. janellekramer permalink

    I had never heard the theory that people actually helped the diversity in the Mediterranean and it was a very nice surprise that not everyone on the planet who understands the impacts of climate change hate humans for everything that they (we) embody. On that note, I can understand both sides of the issue. The obvious side, at least in the current time of living, is to assume that any problem with species in the Mediterranean area is human caused. However, because humans of some form have been on the Earth for a lot longer than the 2,000 years since the beginning of the Common Era, it only makes sense that humans impacted the land then like humans do today. Since we assume that the Mediterranean is/was diverse and that humans have always impacted the land, is it too hard to attribute at least some of that diversity to human interaction?

  2. Summer Rose W permalink

    Morgan, I really like what you have to say about the problems with agriculture in Bhutan and the issue of the glacial lakes that are likely to eventually break (or melt) and flow into the valleys below. This reminds me of a documentary I once saw about India, and some news I have read about China and the building of dams that have negative impacts on the people that live in the valley below.
    In the case that you show, it is impossible or very difficult to stop melting of the glacial lake because of environmental reasons. This makes me really think about how it is really sad and upsetting when the government does something that has horrible consequences on the people. When it comes to nature having a great impact on people, it seems tragic. It is impossible to stop these dams from breaking unless everyone in the world decides to make a change. But they won’t, so it is not possible to change.. Eventually leading to a great flow of water, washing away small villages in Bhutan.

  3. This article gives insight to resilience efforts for five vulnerabilities in Bhutan today: landslides and floods, deteriorating agricultural production, impoverished forests, worsening health security and impaired hydroelectricity generation. The article describes how today, Bhutan is trying to adapt to these vulnerabilities by using two globally sponsored adaptation efforts. I think the article is structured extremely well, initially giving good insight why Bhutan is being studied in this case; that it is not only extremely at risk of flooding and landslides, but that its status as a developing country and recipient of funding due to its extreme situation. The authors’ qualitative data collecting methods include both in-country field research as well as research interviews, a good combination of data collection in order to get both the most beneficial and accurate data possible within the state’s resilience efforts. The authors further help strengthen their article by describing their data shortcomings, a lack of interviews (only 20 were conducted), as well as a difficulty in coding data due to its “thick” nature. They go on to describe how they supplemented for their data shortcomings, by substituting interviews with site visits. They also address the advantages of their study over those produced by the GDF, LDCF and Bhutan government, noting and describing the four unique advantages that their study has over the others. The article goes on to describe separately the results found for each of the five vulnerabilities subject to Bhutan landscape that were initially stated and the difficulty of implementing these challenges. Meenawat and Sovacool offer 3 conclusions to the issue overall and article itself. First, that the impacts of climate change are not far off, second that adaptive projects seem to work best when they blend forms of resilience, as the two projects are currently doing, and third, that implementing adaptive projects will be a large challenge no matter how possibly beneficial they are.
    Over all, I enjoyed reading this article as I thought it gave good insight into the pertinent environmental issue of resilience that Bhutan is undergoing. The article did a great job outlining the information necessary to the reader so that it was easy to understand not only what is occurring in Bhutan, but also how these studies yielded information which could give much enlightenment to potentially fixing the problem. The article spurred the questions for me regarding resilience models and tactics for adaption:
    1. Is this extremely dangerous flooding and landslide issue in Bhutan as the glaciers continue to disappear being handled well with the current two projects being implemented? Or is this issue too much for a country with the potential challenges at hand to fix (challenges noted include unstable terrain, lack of resources and lack of institutional capacity and coordination and lack of awareness for the issue by people in Bhutan)?
    2. The work of these two adaptive projects in Bhutan is concurrent how with the 2 previously discussed resilience models? Does the article seem to imply that nature will return to the way it was or that resilience includes the adaption of totally new understandings of nature in Bhutan?
    3. Did you find Meenawat and Sovacool’s article to be beneficial in both educating about the glacier melting situation in Bhutan, and around the world in general, as well as possible solutions and challenges that go along with the issue of adaption to natural changes in the world today? Do you feel that their study gave way to vital and newly developed information which could help the current issue?

  4. amygraceaustin permalink

    This article really strikes me because it provides a perspective of Bhutan so different than what is portrayed through popular media. Bhutan itself, with its restrictions on the number of tourists allowed to enter the country each year, seems to strive to maintain an image of mystery and awe. However, the issues facing this country related to global warming break this mindset and cause me to realize that the insecurities faced in Bhutan are much like those in the rest of the world. I wonder how officials in Bhutan would respond to the publication of this information and if this could have an impact on how others perceive the country. In my perception, Bhutan has been so self-sufficient for so long that it is very interesting to see it illustrated in this light.

  5. Educating the public, strengthening infrastructure, creating land management policies, and establishing early warning systems for natural disasters are great examples of improving our adaptative capacity. This does apply to the Holling’s definition of resilience at a community level. However, climatic changes occur almost as fast as populations change their land practices such as agriculture. Bhutan can implement these policies and programs to try and prevent natural disasters from occurring, but these events will happen…it just depends on when. Being prepared indeed does help, but can’t preventing the inevitable be dangerous as well? I do agree that looking at the infrastructure, cultural beliefs, agricultural practices, economic dependency all contribute to the process of resilience on any community. But do you believe these prevention strategies will truly help long-term or just for the current future? After all, how resilient is a population if you have alter everything around you? Doesn’t that change the definition of resilient?

  6. Fred Reisen permalink

    I think this article is a great example of the complexity of the problems associated with climate change and how many different impacts will be felt by people all over the world. I do not believe that prevention at this point will stop most eminent disasters from happening and I believe the more difficult problems will be around dealing with the displaced persons. The irony I find in all this is that most of the greenhouse emissions in the world are stemming from more developed places yet it is the less developed areas of the world that may feel the harsh effects first and the hardest.

  7. punam123 permalink

    i think this aricle is very influential to reader like us on knowing the effect of climate change happening in the developing nation like Bhutan. Bhutan has a fragile nature system as you mentioned above, many lands are not cultivated and people are illiterate due to lack of infrastructure of development. This can be blamed in the failed politics of Bhutan. Bhutan is a monarch nation and the monarch has transformed its power to the assembly. If they want to work on developing Bhutan with infrastructure of development. Bhutan will still suffer a lot because developing the roads and electricity will affect the natural resources. In addition to this, climate change all started from developed nation and the developed nation should implement new policies so climate change does not affect the future generation.

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