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Are we sure?

The recent incidents of river level increasing, and exceeding the alert threshold is an indication of the nature’s fury.
Located in a fragile ecosystem, Bhutan is prone to natural disasters, especially flash floods, soil erosion, land and mudslides. Glacial lake outburst flood is worst, but not impossible. We have already experienced several in the recent past. There is not much humans can do when nature is at its worst. Even developed countries suffer in the hands of natural disasters.
In Bhutan, whenever heavy rainfall occurs or river level change, most of us think of our hydropower plants, especially those that are being built with billions of Ngultrums. It is the hope of the government for a better future of Bhutan. People are convinced that hydropower exported from all the projects would bring home huge revenue. That is why we are building and building.
Images of river overflowing over the cofferdam at Punatsangchhu, people evacuating at higher grounds in Trongsa and the dark clouds gathering in the skies send shivers down our spine. It could hit the very spine of the economy.
Punatsangchhu I is already delayed by several years. Cost has escalated beyond planners imagined. Now people are wondering what if a major flood destroys what is being built there? It is a matter of “IF” and we can take consolation in the “If”. But with weather and rainfall pattern changing, it is time to think harder.
Weather experts are saying that we are expecting lesser rainfall, but heavier rainfall in a short span of time. These are the patterns that cause major floods. Early warning centres and disaster preparedness can save lives and properties, but not our golden goose, the hydropower projects. If a major flood damages our plants, we are doomed.
We are doomed because we have pinned our hope of a better future on hydropower; at least this is what successive governments are saying. Much of the economic problem at present is blamed to the hydropower sector – the huge debts, the trade deficit, shortage of Rupee, bad roads. And it is not creating employment!
Critics have been warning about the risk of putting all the eggs in the hydropower basket. They will have the last laugh if anything odd happens. Nobody wants out hydropower projects to suffer setbacks, but with nature being so unpredictable, we have to brace for the worst.
It is time to relook at our priorities. Maybe, it is high time to think of divesting our investments. For the purpose of discourse, what about agriculture? We had been an agrarian society for many generations and we have been self-sufficient. This doesn’t mean that we should go back to our old days.
Agriculture is one sector Bhutanese are good at. It will create jobs, make the country food self-sufficient and improve the trade imbalance. The sight of young people working in the fields is very much appreciated. If this can be replicated, not only for the purpose of sharing on Facebook, but doing real agriculture, Bhutan would achieve a lot of things.
Hydropower is important, but it is not the only sector.

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