Gelephu Students’ safety at risk amidst wild elephants, flash floods, and rabies outbreak

Gelephu has become a hazard zone for school-going students, as they face a list of challenges that put their safety and education at risk. The surge in wild elephants roaming closer to human settlements has sparked concern among parents and communities. Adding to it are the seasonal flash floods that disrupt daily movement and, more alarmingly, a recent outbreak of rabies, intensifying health concerns in the region. Students studying in schools such as Pelrithang Higher Secondary School (PHSS) are at higher risk of both wild elephants and flash floods.

During the summer months, Gelephu faces the threat of flash floods due to heavy rains. The rising waters have led to road closures and the swelling of the seasonal floods leads to disruptions in the education system.

Tulsi from Pelrithang is a mother of two kids studying in PHSS. She shared her concern regarding the difficulties faced during summer when a seasonal flash flood known as Dhaula Kharay swells up and it becomes even harder for the parents to help their kids cross the river. She said, “We are engaged in our household work and it becomes challenging even for we parents to cross the river.”

Wild elephants have been venturing closer to human settlements, causing understandable concern among people and parents. The proximity of wild elephants has raised safety issues for the public and the students, especially during their daily travels to school.

Students from Zomlingthang and Pemathang face the major threats from the wild elephants as the students need to bypass the dense forest. They also face the major hurdle from Sethikhari which is considered prone to violent summer flash floods.

According to Chenga Dawa, the principal of Pelrithang Higher Secondary School, the threat posed by elephants and flash floods during the summer is a concern. He stated, “The walking distance from Pemathang to school passes through bushes, and there is a risk involved.”

The school management has urged parents to take responsibility for ensuring their children’s safe commute to school.

Despite the challenges, Chenga Dawa emphasized that, fortunately, there have been no casualties among the students thus far. However, seasonal floods can turn extremely violent after heavy rainfall, increasing the risk. To address this, the school management maintains close communication with parents and Tshogpas of respective areas.

If the river swells and becomes difficult for students and parents to cross, they immediately inform the school management and further reach the matter to higher authorities. Based on reports from the field, they make decisions regarding student safety, including the possibility of granting a day off if necessary.

Ajay Kumar Mongar, the Tshogpa of Zomlithang, acknowledged the potential danger posed by the presence of bushes and forests, which often attract wild elephants, putting the school-going students at risk.

Regarding the issue of flash floods, Ajay Kumar stated that the safety of the students is their top priority. He said, “During times of extremely swollen rivers, we do not send students to school. The school management informs us about any necessary day holidays due to seasonal floods, and we ensure this information reaches the parents in our respective chiwogs.”

A 42-year-old father reaches his daughter from Pemathang to the school gate with other parents from the community.  He shared that the risk is very high as the way needs to pass by the forest and bushes covered, the risk remains to everyone who passes by and the major risk remains to the students who at times need to walk alone as every parent cannot reach out their kids to schools.

In addition to the natural challenges, Gelephu has been grappling with a rabies outbreak, raising health concerns among parents and students. The fear of contracting the deadly disease has left many parents worried.

People in Gelephu are apprehensive after the death of the first case, which occurred on 31 May, when a 29-year-old army personnel was bitten by a stray dog at the Tareythang army outpost. Since then, the public is under the major concern of the virus spreading in the community.

Meanwhile, parents are also concerned about the rabies outbreak and the risk to their children. Neera Gurung is a concerned mother who shared about the ongoing risk of the rabies outbreak in Gelephu. She said, “It is very concerning to let children go to school alone due to the prevalence of wild elephants, and the risk is further accelerated by the recent outbreak of rabies in the community.”

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