Bhutan is recovering and learning: PM 

The Prime Minister, Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay, who has been actively involved in supervising the disaster rehabilitation works for the last one week in Southern Bhutan said that Bhutan is well on the way to recovery from the first wave.

He said, “Our main concern is of more heavy rains in the near future and even while we complete all recovery efforts we should be prepared for possibly more onslaught.”

“There were no flash floods and thankfully we could see the water levels rise,” he said.


Sarpang and Amochu area

He said in terms of the damages His Majesty has provided Kidu to the Sarpang town residents while roads are being reconnected and bridges are being rebuilt.

With the focus already moving to rehabilitation the PM said that approval has already been given to build smaller houses in the new Sarpang town ship located at a safer place. He said that even though the area had been prepared, land plotted and facilities given the plot owners there had not built since they did not find tenants willing to move from the old Sarpang town.

“I had myself warned them last year that they are on a flood plain and it would be better for them to move,” said the PM. This is the third time Sarpang town has been washed away with a flood with earlier floods in 1996 and 2000.

The Ministry of Works and Human Settlement is already coming up with different types of house designs and will be improving a local rural water supply scheme for water connections. The PM said that the setting up of a new and safer town would be the silver lining from the disaster. A team from the Department of Human Settlement and Engineering Services will be soon heading for Sarpang.

In the case of the Amochu area given how it is perennially prone to floods, the Phuentsholing Thromde has asked the workshops and small businesses to relocate from there. (see separate story on page 5).

Ministry of Works and Human Settlement minister Lyonpo Dorji Choden said that in the long run the Amochu Township project being implemented by DHI would lead to both better flood protection and also land reclamation.

She also said that for Sarpang the ministry every year does flood protection measures but since it was found to be inadequate when the rains are very heavy they were already coming up with a permanent project.

The minister said that the ministry was doing studies for flood protection on the Mao Khola and Seti Khola and was also in talks with the Dutch government to get assistance for it.


Lessons learnt

In terms of lessons learnt the PM he said that communication is an area of concern.

“This time around the mobiles did not collapse and if they did then all Dzongkhags do have satellite phones but even then a lot more needs to be done,” said the PM.

In terms of a major lesson learnt the PM said “His Majesty took personal concern and was personally involved in overseeing relief work which was not only effective but all segments rallied around His Majesty and people felt very motivated.”

He said that it was new to him to see this first hand at close quarters and it was a rare privilege and honor and almost spiritual.  The PM said that His Majesty’s presence at the site personally overseeing relief work despite the difficulties had a very positive impact on the ground and this was a valuable lesson he learnt.

Another lesson the PM cited was that though Bhutan’s disaster system was tested it’s preparation was not bad and he was able to access up to date and constant information on roads, river levels, electricity connection, food stocks throughout the country, fuel reserves and medical supply reserves.

“The recent experience has given us firsthand experience and now we can even make better data,” said the PM.

The PM said that coordination was also good as the Dzongkhags could immediately reach and keep in constant touch with the government and this applied for all relevant agencies.

Lyonchhen said the helicopter services worked very well and was helpful in the disaster apart from doing it’s own medical evacuations.

The PM also said that one recurring trait to see was all Bhutanese coming together which has to do with the leadership of His Majesty The King. He said that all armed forces, police, Dessups, private sector, volunteers came together both in Sarpang to provide relief and also working together in protecting the Amochu banks.


Roads and bridges

The PM said that clearing the roads and maintaining connectivity is a top priority and of them the biggest concern is reconnecting Thimphu due to its big population. He reported that the Bailey bridge at Kamji is coming along well and almost ready but in the meantime the Pasakha-Manitar bypass had also been opened. Lyonchhen cited the valuable contribution that the 50 RBA soldiers deputed by His Majesty The King were making in constructing the bridge along with DANTAK.

The PM said that total cost of the reconstruction of roads, bridges and other infrastructure is not yet known but currently works were being carried out from the money kept aside for disaster works. He said road, bridge and embank construction would be done from the normal budget.

The government has already issued instructions to identify the key roads, prioritize them and then go all out to clear and maintain them, the PM said. He said experts, workers and machineries have been deployed.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said that a team of engineers had been sent to strengthen the field engineering team in Sarpang and the team managed to build the vital Sarpang-Tsirang-Wangdue road which was washed away and can serve as an alternative to the Phuntsholing-Thimphu highway.

In Gelephu the water treatment plant which had been submerged was cleaned and is now supplying limited amount of water.

In terms of bridges the minister said that the Samtse to Sipsu bridge will be repaired once the river subsides a bit.

When asked about the quality of the Construction at the Samtse bridge that collapsed the minister said that the bridge was already old and required replacement. She said that for all old bridges the ministry has put up signs asking for caution and saying only up to 20 tons weight is allowed.

The minister said that many bridges need replacement and some of them are being done with help from JICA in this five year plan period. The ministry is making an inventory of the priority bridges that need to be replaced.

The minister said a close eye is being kept on the Balujora bridge at Pasakha on the Pasakha-Manitar road that bypasses Sorchen to connect Phuentsholing and Thimphu while a new bridge is already under construction at a distance.

She said another team had been sent to strengthen the team at the Pasakha-Manitar road and after clearing the road they were working from the manitar junction to clear the road that heads to Lhamoizingkha.

She said that the bridge on the Trongsa-Zhemgang road which has collapsed due to slide does not mean Zhemgang is cut off as there are other roads to access it.

Lyonpo said there are small slides that keep happening on the East-West highway but the contractors who are already working on the highway clear them away. She said there were certain issues with Gewog center roads in Chukha and Dagana but most of them are not affected badly.

Lyonpo said as preparation for the entire monsoon season the nine field offices of the Department of Roads were being restacked with Bailey bridge parts and a close eye was being kept on the all bridges, highways and Gewog roads and the site engineers were sending in reports twice a day. They were also keeping track of any risks to the bridges.

She said that the DoR would make an assessment of the road damages and come out with the figures though currently works were being done from the regular maintenance budget.

A part of the Phuntsholing to Samtse road has been washed away which the minister said will be repaired once the weather improves.

The minister pointed out that road blocks are simpler but it is more difficult when the entire road formation washes away.

With regard to the Phuntsholing-Thimphu highway though project DANTAK does the maintenance the DoR provided the Bailey bridge for Kamji. Lyonpo said that slides at Wangkha and Takti are happening.

The ministry also sent a team to monitor at the Trashigang-Samdrupjongkhar highway which is the only other highway being maintained by DANTAK.

The Agriculture Minister Lyonpo Yeshey said that farm roads have been affected but this was again a seasonal occurrence every monsoon and the damage is not very extensive though there has been more impact in Dagana due to the loose soil there.

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