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Happy and safe but polluted and sad

Photo courtesy: Tashi Tshering, WWF Bhutan
The Lunana Community is without any doubt happy, and hugely relieved that the imminent and immediate danger to their settlement is contained many thanks to the project which lowered the levels of the Thorthormi and Rapsthreng Lake.
Be that as it may, the community, in the aftermath is however in gripes with the polluted and unkempt environment left behind as residue of works undertaken by men, machine, animals and temporary campsites.
The highlanders are unhappy to see their pristine and virgin landscapes turned into a ramshackle ghost terrain.
Lunana Gup Gyenpo Tshering said that the project has immensely saved the nation from Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) calamities, but it polluted the gewog and left the paved path and wooden bridges in poor conditions. He said villagers are unaware of the cleanliness so they are more concerned about limited tsamdro which is insufficient for their cattle as of now.
The Gup said every day more than 100 horses come to project campus and feed on the limited tsamdro.
“The tsamdro which will be sufficient for a year is finished in one month by cattle which are assigned to work for the Project,” he said. On top of that people in Lunana are left with limited timber.
The assigned project will not maintain the rickety bridge and roads, instead we need to propose government for the budget, said gup Gyenpo.
The gewog has around seven wooden bridges starting from Laya till the gewog which are all in bad conditions. People can however use them to travel through.
“At the moment we don’t face much problem since we didn’t experience snow fall this month,” he added.
In addition to that all the Lunaps travel south to buy grocery and household items as it is always been an unavoidable and necessary practice to hoard for storage in the cold and remote regions.
In the previous year Lunana experienced heavy rainfall by this month but the present year saw no snowfall, which made hoarding activities easier.
The gewog has three villages, Relo, Hayde and Thayga consisting in total 45 households.
“It might sound trivial to pick on the issue but it had polluted our pristine environment,” the Lunana gup said. Lunana is one of the famous tourist sites so it needs to preserve its environmental attributes.
On the way to Lunana one can see worn-out clothes, fast food packets and wrappers, pet bottles and human excreta disposed at irregular and inappropriate intervals on the paths. Instant action is impossible but the community people plan to clean the area and burn all the waste disposed.
Gup Gyenpo said it’s impossible to clean all the area as it’s a seven to eight day walk from the gewog therefore they have to leave some places polluted with wastes.
However he said that they didn’t put up the issue to the dzongkhag as it’s a National project which by all means benefitted the nation as well as neighboring regions.
Lunaps aspire to have proper road facilities by the 11th Five year Plan as they are the only gewog deprived of one. Very soon Laya, Soe and Naro would get their road facilities.
“With road facilities in the gewog we can reduce inconveniences and address the issues at gewog level,” said the gup.
Meanwhile the project to tame two dangerous lakes was completed successfully.
More than 300 workers, for about three months every year for the last five years worked under conditions as freezing as two degree centigrade. The team successfully drained out the same volume of water that gushed downstream in 1994 GLOF.
The mitigation team this year reduced the water level of Thorthormi by five meters. Almost 17 million cubic meters of water drained into the Phochu through a 10 meter-wide channel, which reduced the same level of risk such a volume of water could cause downstream.
The lake is harmless for now but the remaining water in the lake can cause GLOF depending on external and natural factors such as earthquakes, rock slides and avalanche.
The Nu130mn worth project was successfully completed, but it also came at the price of three workers who lost their lives in 2010 and two workers who lost their toes to frostbite.
The Thorthormi glacial lake in northern Bhutan is considered the country’s likeliest climate-induced disaster. The lake, perched at a height of more than 4,400 meters, is swelling because of melting ice, and is in danger of bursting its wall.
It was in 2008 that the Bhutanese government decided to start an operation to reduce the possibility of a GLOF after Bhutan’s first proposal to artificially lower the Thorthormi lake was accepted under the national adaptation programs of action (NAPA) in 2006. Under the project, supported by the United Nations Development Program among others, the government aimed to lower the water level of the lake by five meters or 17 million cubic meters of water in four years.
The decision followed a study which showed the lake was expanding and if the lake bursts, it would threaten communities in the Punakha-Wangdue district and Choskhor valley.
The international mission led by Bhutan›s department of geology and mines to mitigate the risk posed by Thorthormi lake ended in November 2011. The team deputed to accomplish the mission was back after the third and final phase of the project. But the mission was far from accomplished.
Operation Thorthormi was delayed by a year and the actual work on it started only in 2009. Since then, the water level in the largest glacial lake in Bhutan, measuring 3.42 sq km was reduced by 3.68m, 1.32m short of the target.
The team members of the mission confirmed that Thorthormi Lake and other ponds in the Thorthormi glacier are expanding. A past study conducted with old satellite images of the other lakes in the same vicinity showed that annual retreat rate of the glacier is about 30-35 meters each year.

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