The costs of adaptation in Punakha, Bhutan: Loss and damage associated with changing monsoon patterns

The costs of adaptation in Punakha, Bhutan: Loss and damage associated with changing monsoon patterns

Report examining the coping and adaptation measures used in Bhutan to address changing monsoon patterns and the risk of glacial lake outburst floods.

In both scholarly debates and policy circles it is increasingly acknowledged that there are limits to adaptation and coping, meaning that it is particularly important to pay attention to those cases where adaptation and coping measures are not successful. This requires producing empirical data at the household level in order to inform decision-making to address loss and damage for the most vulnerable people in the world. To this end, the Institute for Conservation and Environment conducted a case study in Punakha district, Bhutan, to explore how people are adapting to slow-onset changes in water availability due to changing monsoon patterns, their coping strategies after extreme events, and the residual loss and damage. The study, part of the Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries Initiative, used a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, including a household survey of 273 households and a wide range of in-depth individual and group interviews. Four research domains formed the focus of the work: climate threats, principally the changing rainfall patterns and the risk of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs); societal impacts from variable water availability for agriculture and the latest large GLOF in 1994; responses in terms of coping and adapting to these threats; and loss and damage resulting from these climate. The report discusses a number of important aspects with regard to the context of the study area and the coping and adaptation strategies employed, including diversification of livelihoods, crop trends, remittances, food security, and poverty levels. Loss and damage from changing monsoon patterns is examined, as well as coping and adaptive measures including the use of rituals, water-sharing arrangements, and maintenance of irrigation channels. The report concludes that small-scale farmers in the Punakha district experience difficulties in accessing sufficient irrigation water to cultivate their paddy fields, and that while they have been adopting a variety of measures to deal with this, the measures are considered insufficient and have their own costs (only 13% of respondents deemed their adaptive measures sufficient). The authors argue that these costs should not only be conceived in monetary terms, but also in terms of time, social-cohesion and livelihood security, and that in contrast with extreme events such as floods, gradual changes in water availability are an easily overlooked area for interventions. Efforts are needed to secure access to water by small-scale farmers, for example by investing in research and development of collective and private water services, like water-storages, water pumps and irrigation systems. [adapted from source]

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