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How Yak Farmers Can Hold Back a Glacial Tsunami

A lake in the moraine wall of Jichu Drake glacial lake.

A lake in the moraine wall of Jichu Drake glacial lake.

By Stephen Hughes

As Himalayan glaciers melt, the natural dams formed beneath them become a dangerous threat to villages below. However, local yak farmers could soon have a simple solution.

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It was September 2013, just after the monsoon season. As we climbed up a long, windy and muddy track towards the “Roof of the World” my heart raced and chest heaved from the effort required to extract oxygen from the rarefied air.

I asked myself: “Why am I doing this?” The answer was that I was there to help the people of Bhutan find a cheap and sustainable way to drain water from glacial lakes to reduce the risk of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs).

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is a small country of 700,000 inhabitants, and covers an area about as large as Tasmania or Switzerland. Bhutan is one of the most environmentally proactive countries in the world. Seventy per cent of Bhutan is covered in forest, and by law this figure is not allowed to fall below 60%.

As well as having an exemplary environmental record, Bhutan is also famous for its policy of “Gross National Happiness”. Its parliament makes decisions not on what is going to generate the greatest material wealth for the country, but what is going to contribute to the overall happiness and well-being of the nation.

However, like many developing countries, Bhutan is suffering from the side-effects of the developed world’s rapid economic development since the Industrial Revolution.

The problem is that the dramatic increase in the average temperature of the Himalayas since...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.