"So small and lightweight UAVs are already being used in disaster response; to capture high-resolution imagery,for Emergency Relief and Medicinal -transportation. So the question is no longer IF, but rather how can Bhutan ensure that these promising technologies can have positive impact in humanitarian settings? How do we ensure that local communities have a say in how drones are used? In addition to these questions, there are growing concerns around safety, privacy, regulation and ethics that need to be tackled earlier rather than later. One way to address these challenges is by mobilizing a community of practice that can pro-actively discuss these issues. Today, Fablab Bhutan is honored to invite Filed Ready, and fortunate to co-organizing with JICA BHUTAN an Awareness Meeting on Humanitarian UAVs at Department of Disaster Management in Bhutan as a first step. We look forward to progressing the effective and ethical use of humanitarian drones."
“The Land of the Thunder Dragon”, “The Last Shangrila” and the “Land of the Peaceful Dragon” all refer to the tiny kingdom of Bhutan nestled in the eastern part of the Great Himalayan Range. Located between the two giants of China in the north and India on the remaining three sides, Bhutan is populated with just over 800,000 people. The terrain is mostly rugged and mountainous with altitude ranging from less than 100m in the south to more than 7,500m in the north within a north-south distance of less than 175km. 20% of the land area is above 4,200m and permanently covered with snow and ice, which form glaciers and glacial lakes.
The most significant impact of climate change in Bhutan is the formation of supra-glacial lakes due to the accelerated retreat of glaciers with increasing temperatures. The result is that glaciers in Bhutan are receding at a rate of 30-60 meters per decade. The melting ice from these receding glaciers is increasing the volume of water in glacial lakes, and the melting of ice-cored dams is destabilizing them, pushing the hazard risk for Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) to critical levels. The risk of potential disasters inflicted by GLOF, pose new threats to lives, livelihoods and development. The risks are mounting as water levels in several glacier lakes approach critical geostatic thresholds.
A major proportion of Bhutan's population is settled in fertile valleys along a number of river systems. When a GLOF occurs along rivers which are sourced from glaciers and glacial lakes the lives and property of many people are at risk. Such devastating effects can still be seen today from the last GLOF that took place in Bhutan in 1994 along the Puna Tsang Chu valley. Not only are lives and property endangered but also important infrastructure such as hydroelectric dams that are situated along these rivers.
The Government of Bhutan with support from United Nations has taken a step towards adapting to climate change by developing a National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA), coordinated by the National Environment Commission (NEC). The main objective of the NAPA has been to identify and address the most prominent issues related to climate change.
Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are already being used in humanitarian response around the world. An unprecedented number of small and lightweight UAVs were launched in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. They were used in Haiti following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. And more recently, they were flown in response to the massive flooding in the Balkans and after the earthquake in China.
This increasing use of UAVs for humanitarian purposes explains why the United Nations (UN) recently published an official policy brief on the topic. And, a number of UN groups like the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) are actively exploring the use of UAVs for disaster response. Fablab Bhutan has already also joined the Humanitarian UAV Network (UAViators), to promote the safe and responsible use of UAVs in humanitarian settings.