The Punakha-Wangdi valley will soon see early warning sirens going off and all resident of the twin valleys running to designated higher ground for their dear life.
However, this will be a mock drill as part of Bhutan’s largest disaster management program conducted by the Department of Disaster Management to prepare for the potential bursting of large lakes in the mountains due to global warming.
The Department of Disaster Management (DDM) as part of this has already initiated several awareness programs, a comprehensive Glacier Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) Early Warning System is being installed, GLOF hazard-zonation maps have been developed and safe evacuation sites have been designated.
In case a lake bursts the Early Warning System will alert people the Red Zone or high risk areas, where a focal person will the DDM focal person and Gups who will both then coordinate the whole process of evacuation. The areas demarcated as red zone are areas which will be submerged in case of the worst case scenario.
Department has premeditated that the GLOF would take five to six hours to reach Punakha and so people would have an adequate amount of time to evacuate.
More than 27 communities who fall under Red Zone area in Wangdue and Punakha have been methodically trained for safe evacuation during the GLOF.
The Department has identified a place for immediate evacuation in Blue Zone which is safer from GLOF as in a previous 1994 flood in Punakha people did not know where to go during the flood.
According to the Dzongkhag Disaster focal person, Tshering Norbu the evacuation place is just a safe idle ground where no infrastructure is developed or farming is done and so people can seek safe haven during floods. He also said that if the worst flood did happen in the future it would be about 53 mn cubic meters and triple the size of the 1994 flood which was 18mn cubic meters.
The department chose the evacuation ground on the basis of abundance of space since it would be convenient for people to evacuate their properties.
The evacuation area is for a group of settlements to avoid confusion and is connected with at least a fairly good road or foot track within the shortest possible distance from the settlement. The roads would help with evacuation of properties and items that cannot be carried by humans alone.
“Many properties and lives were lost in the past disaster,” Chief Program Officer with the DDM Pelden Zangmo said. She said that it was due to the lack of disaster preparedness and Absence of Disaster Management and Contingency Plans at Various levels. However, she said that the Department has learned lessons from the past disaster and which has helped to mitigate future disasters.
The Emergency Tele-Communication Network would soon be set up to be of assistance to the people who remain cut off during times of disaster. “During September 21, 2009 earthquake people were left without coordination and information sharing which created communication gaps and lead to duplication of efforts,” said the Director General, Namgay Wangchuk of the DDM. He said that the Tele-communication network would help solve the problem.