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Posted on on September 10th, 2011
by Pincas Jawetz (

Climate Change Threatens Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness.

THIMPU, Bhutan, September 9, 2011 (ENS) – Hydropower, the biggest economic driver in the Himalayan country of Bhutan, is threatened by serious water shortages as the country’s glaciers melt due to climate warming, finds Bhutan’s latest National Human Development Report.

Many of Bhutan’s glaciers are melting at a higher rate than those in other mountain ranges, according to the new report, “Sustaining Progress: Rising to the Climate Challenge.”

“Alternative development pathways, such as Gross National Happiness that we are promulgating, will influence the capacity of communities … to adapt to climate change,” said Pema Gyamtsho, minister of agriculture and forests, at the report’s launch last week.

Gross National Happiness is the official development philosophy of Bhutan, a kingdom led by King Jigme Singye Wangchuk. It has been approved by parliament, making Bhutan the world’s only country to measure its wellbeing by Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product.

To realize its Gross National Happiness philosophy of life, Bhutan has prioritized conservation of the environment, and made a commitment to remain carbon neutral by keeping absorption of the greenhouse gases higher than emissions.

More than 70 percent of Bhutan is covered with forests. With an export ban on unprocessed timber, Bhutan has been able to keep its carbon absorption from the agriculture, energy and industry sectors at levels that maintain its status as a net sink for greenhouse gases.

Yet as the climate continues to warm, melting Himalayan glaciers are theatening not only the happiness but also the lives of Bhutan residents. Depleted glaciers will leave little water for Bhutanese hydropower, but as they melt, catastrophic amounts of water will be released.

As glaciers move across the landscape, they pile up rocky debris, forming moraines that act as natural dams for lakes filled with melt water. When they fail, they can create devastating glacial outburst floods.

On October 7, 1994, in the Bhutan Himalaya, the partial collapse of a moraine along the edge of the Luggye Lake released a glacial outburst flood that killed 21 people and swept away livestock, crops, and homes.

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