- Climate Change and Disasters: Protecting Townships in Bhutan
- Moving to a low-carbon development path is critical to slowing climate change.
- A major focus of the Phuentsholing Township Development Project is to provide a safer space in which the town can grow by helping develop a new urban center with raised ground levels in an area sheltered by the embankments
This story of Bhutan explains how the Asian Development Fund (ADF) is helping people and communities affected by climate extremes better manage climate change risks and reduce losses from climate-related disasters.
The southern Bhutan border town of Phuentsholing is brimming with development potential. It is the country’s biggest commercial and industrial hub and sits at the busiest crossing point on Bhutan’s frontier with its major trading partner and southwestern neighbor, India. However, a shortage of suitable land for construction hampers the town’s potential, and regular flooding by nearby rivers and tributaries threatens lives and infrastructure.
“Everyone will benefit, in both the existing and the new township. And the warning system gives people time to move to higher ground.”
The problem is a combination of erosion of land laid bare by development activities and the worsening effects of climate change. Extreme weather events, particularly severe storms and heavy rains, strike each year, swelling rivers, triggering landslides and rockfalls, blocking roads, and sending flash floods surging through Phuentsholing’s streets and into its businesses and homes sometimes in the middle of the night.
Tenzin Dorji has been hurt by the flooding twice, first when his brick factory was inundated in 2015. “The 2016 flood was even worse,” says the father of three. “The factory, my auto maintenance shop and my home were all flooded. Most of my equipment was destroyed.”
Like most of Phuentsholing’s more than 27,000 people, the 69-year-old has welcomed the $24.2 million ADF grant provided to construct river walls and an early warning system to mitigate the risk faced by Phuentsholing’s residents.
A major focus of the Phuentsholing Township Development Project is to provide a safer space in which the town can grow by helping develop a new urban center with raised ground levels in an area sheltered by the embankments. This will increase the town’s resilience to the growing climate change effects while also reducing overcrowding on the exiting town.
“Everyone will benefit, in both the existing and the new township,” Tenzin says. “And the warning system gives people time to move to higher ground.
“We also have a vision to make Phuentsholing an ecotourism city through greening activities and the adoption of clean, environmentally friendly technology.”
Chimi Wangmo, who is visually impaired, is pleased with new urban services the project will provide, including footpaths, streetlights, a water treatment plant, and wastewater and solid waste management facilities.
Chimi, 56, leaves her husband and daughter at home for a while each night to feed stray dogs in the streets. “The streetlights will make this safer and more convenient,” she says. Other residents look forward to health and livelihood benefits from the new urban center—“the many new things that will come,” as Sarita Rai puts it. “My village will have a market on our doorstep,” says the 26-year-old mother. “I’ll be able to sell our vegetables and dairy products there.” She has a 3-year-old son and is pleased by the prospect of a new school and hospital being built nearby.
Uttar Kamar Rai, Phuentsholing’s mayor, is looking toward long-term benefits beyond the extremely valuable immediate flood-protection and disaster-resilience improvements. These include the additional room the new urban center will give the town to reduce overcrowding and expand its population. “We also have a vision,” he says, “to make Phuentsholing an ecotourism city through greening activities and the adoption of clean, environmentally friendly technology.”
Climate change poses extreme challenges for ADF countries. The climate change and disaster risks and impacts to which their economies and people are especially vulnerable are growing in number and magnitude. Yet these countries lack the resources to either prepare for these events or recover quickly or fully after they are hit. ADB responded by stepping up assistance through ADF 12 grant operations that are specially tailored to meet their needs.
Learn more about the Asian Development Fund (ADF).
This article was originally published in Together We Deliver, a publication highlighting successful ADB projects across Asia and the Pacific that demonstrated development impacts, best practice, and innovation.