Bhutan in recent times has witnessed at least five major disasters, and some were as recent as 2009. This includes damages from natural calamities such as earthquake, water, fire and wind.
To go with the specifics, Bhutan have was struck by earthquakes, glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), floods and flash floods, landslides, forest fires and structural fires, windstorms, Pandemics such as SARs, Bird flu,H1N1.
In the summer of 2009, Cyclone Aila caused rampant floods in many parts of the country, rendered them handicapped in terms of transport and communications facilities.
Reports with the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) pointed out that incessant rainfall precipitated by Cyclone Aila led to record rise in the levels of major rivers. For instance, water levels in Punakha and Wangdue exceeded 1994 GLOF flood. It also claimed 13 lives besides causing damages to a hefty sum of Nu 722mn.
Another disaster struck few months later. This time it came from beneath the ground. Towards 2:53 PM on 21 September 2011, a ground beneath the Narangpas in Mongar trembled when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake with its epicenter 10 kms beneath lasted for 95 seconds.
Down came houses, buildings and other poorly built structures. 12 unfortunate ones lost their precious lives. The seismic terror damaged 4950 rural homes, 45 BHUs, 117 schools, 26 Gup offices, 8 dzongs, 29 RNR offices, 539 Chortens and 281 Lhakhangs in 13 dzongkhags. The damages amounted to Nu 2501mn.
More disasters struck since then when in April 2011, a windstorm in 17 dzongkhags inflicted damages which cost government more than Nu 39mn. It affected 2424 rural homes in 17 dzongkhags beside damages to numerous other government structures.
Next in the line of disaster was fire, when Chamkhar town in Bumthang was brought down to rubbles for as many as three times. It damaged 109 structures affecting 112 families of Chamkhar town.
An earthquake returned two years later in 18 September, 2011. However it was 64 Kms north-west of Gangtok, Sikkim in India. The epicenter may have been distant from home, but it brought destructions which called for equal attention.
According to Chief Program Officer Officials of DDM, Pelden Zangmo said that some of the underlying vulnerabilities are socio-economic factors, rapid urbanization, unsafe construction practices, and lack of enforcement, awareness, preparedness planning and culture of insurance.
However, authorities overlooking disaster management have not been short of challenges and constraints.
“Resource constraints both in human, material and finance have always been a bottleneck.” Pelden Zangmo said. She added that besides, lack of technical expertise, without a disaster management act in place, DDM claims multi-sector coordination is an issue.
Besides challenges and bottlenecks the DDM have aggressively pursued the program especially targeting the communities of those affected earlier. Not exhaustive of them, they have also involved different section of the society through trainings, meetings, workshops including training for journalists of different media agencies on disaster reporting.
“Extensive Public Education, Advocacy and campaigns on hazards, risks, vulnerabilities have been carried out,” said DDM’s Director General Namgay Wangchuk adding, it includes campaign on earthquake risks and Dos and Don’ts, provision of emergency medical & first Aid training, Fire safety, GLOF Awareness.
International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction is celebrated every year bringing together all stakeholders. “Disaster management has also been inculcated as part of curriculum in School & Colleges, in addition to many other print and broadcast materials,” said the Director General.
21 September 2009 is wrongly reported as 2011.