RAA audit finds Bhutan to be ill prepared for natural disasters

Bhutan over the years has experienced its fair share of natural disasters from earthquakes to floods and fire.

All the while there was much pronouncement and promises by both the former and current governments to strengthen disaster management preparation and coordination.

However, the Royal Audit Authority in a Performance Audit on Disaster Management from 2010-2015, while finding some works are being done, found that Bhutan is still largely ill prepared to deal with a major natural disaster given several shortfalls in disaster preparation and implementation.


Inadequate Functioning of NDMA

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), as per the Disaster Management Act is the highest decision making body on disaster management. NDMA was constituted on 26th February 2014 with the Prime Minister as the Chairperson of the Authority. RAA found that though as per the Act the NDMA is supposed to meet once at least every six months to take stock and give directions on disaster preparedness the NDMA held only two meetings in March 2014 and October 2015.

Though the NDMA had delineated the roles and responsibilities of various agencies those responsibilities were not carried out and the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) also did not do any follow up to verify the status.

The NDMA had also not constituted an inter-ministerial task force comprising of technical experts from relevant agencies as required by the Act. The task force of experts was to bring together qualified people to assist all relevant bodies in managing and preparing for any kind of disaster.


Non-Existence or Non-Functioning of Dzongkhag Disaster Management Committees

Though the Act stipulated formation of Dzongkhag Disaster Management Committees (DDMC) followed by a written 15th May 2014 instruction from the government, most of the Dzongkhags have not initiated the formation of DDMC.

Even the few Dzongkhags that had formed DDMC had done so very recently when the RAA raised concerns on non-formation of DDMC. No Dzongkhag had carried out any functions of DDMC as laid down in the Act. The report says that the Act stipulates the critical role of DDMC in managing disaster at the Dzongkhag, Dungkhag and Gewog level but not even a single meeting was held at the Dungkhag and Gewog level to coordinate and manage disaster related issues.

It says even the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) had failed to fulfill its mandate in the Act as DDM is supposed to facilitate the constitution of Disaster Management Committees.

The report also pointed out the non recruitment of a Dzongkhag Disaster Management Officer as required by the Act. The Dzongkhags had instead nominated focal officials from different fields after the Royal Civil Service Commission did not encourage the recruitment of such officers.

As per the questionnaires floated to disaster focal persons most cited lack of budget and frequent change in focal persons as the primary reasons for not being able to  carry out the primary functions in the Act.


No National Disaster Management plan

As per the Act the National Plan on Disaster Management is supposed to be drawn up on the basis of disaster and contingency plans at the Gewog, Thromde and Dzongkhag.

However, of the 205 gewogs only 26 Gewogs under Chukha, Paro and Trongsa Dzongkhags have been initiated as of date. Also though the draft plan documents of these Gewogs and even Punatsangchu Hydroelectric Project Authority (PHPA) were submitted to DDM for review there was no response from DDM even after a significant lapse of time. The DDM on its part cited a lack of in-house capacity to conduct the review.


No Hazard Zonation Maps and central database

The RAA noted the absence of Hazard Zonation Maps and Vulnerability reports which can otherwise give information on the potential disasters and their potential impact on lives and properties.

With no consolidated nationwide hazard zonation and vulnerability assessment the RAA observed that agencies have attempted to come out with hazard zonation on their own areas without wider consultation often leading to lack of tangible outcomes for disaster management.

As a result DDM has already initiated preparation of disaster management plans for some Geowgs of Paro without a report on hazard zonation and vulnerability mapping.

Though DDM as the nodal agency should possess complete information on anything related to disaster, however, at the moment there is complete lack of information at the central level due to which even the RAA faced tremendous difficulties on gathering even basic information on disaster management in the country.

Though the DDM as per the Act had initiated the Disaster Management Information System, however, it did not serve the purpose of updating disaster related information on continuous basis.

DMIS was also required to be update by focal persons from the Dzongkhags so that they can report and update on disaster issues but contrarily the focal persons in Dzongkhags were not even provided user rights to DMIS and many did not have knowledge of the system.


Lack of effective coordination

The Act necessitates coordination among various government agencies like DDM, Dzongkhags, RBP and relevant ministries but the RAA found there was minimal or no coordination amongst these agencies in managing disasters in the country.

DDM failed to collaborate or pool resources with other agencies like the hydro projects that had a substantial pool of equipment and manpower. Also, Ministries did not know what DDM was doing and the same was the case with DDM and as a result some activities were duplicated.

The Act says that every agency including the private sector notified by NDMA shall institute a Disaster Management Unit in its organization. These key agencies are supposed to prepare disaster management plans including institutional infrastructure that should reasonably ensure continuity of critical services in the event of disaster.

However, the RAA noted that most government and private agencies do not have a disaster management unit in place as most of them have not been notified by the NDMA.


Non Establishment of Emergency Operation Centers

It was found that even though it was mandated in the Act, Emergency Operation Centers (EOC) for receiving disaster alerts and communicating it along with instructions and information and facilitating response and relief operations, were not set up.

Let alone the construction of EOCs at Dzongkhag and other levels, the EOC at the national level is yet to be constructed. Though Punakha Dzongkhag had constructed a building as EOC through UNDP-GLOF funding it was found unutilized at the time of audit inspection.

The DDM had procured Nu 16.6 mn worth of search and rescue equipment and other disaster related equipment mainly distributed to the Dzongkhags. However, in the absence of EOC’s the equipment was found stored in poor conditions with instances of misuse and damage. There was also no proper accountability in managing the equipment. Due to frequent reshuffle in disaster focal persons many of them did not have training and awareness on use of search and rescue equipment.


Inconsistencies in Funding arrangement

The Act says that there will be a separate budget head to be called the budget for National Disaster Management Activities and it shall receive adequate budgetary allocation for immediate restoration of essential public infrastructure.

However, there was no separate budget head and in fact different agencies put up separate requests to the Department of National Budget for ad-hoc disaster activities. In 2015-16 Nu 200 mn was allocated for disaster relief budget to be released on case by case basis.

Even though Dzongkhags as an emergency measure are to meet the expenses of response and relief operation from the annual Dzongkhag budget, the current practice is to put up separate budget for disaster related activities.


Inadequacy in project management

The RAA observed that the government had secured a substantial amount of funds through various donors for disaster management. Till date the government had implemented 22 projects coming to Nu 895.06 mn and 11 projects still under implementation amounting to Nu 1.910 bn.

However, a review of these projects showed inconsistencies and inadequacies.

DDM had not compiled the details of the projects implemented by different agencies and lacked basic information which would impede approving disaster management projects in the future. As projects were carried out in isolation by different agencies there was a clear indication of duplication of efforts. One example was of multiple agencies doing a similar Thimphu valley earthquake risk management project.

Even though DDM officials were adequately trained and qualified a lot of disaster related documents by DDM were outsourced to consultants.

Though almost all projects had a capacity building component the absence of a human resource policy would impede the effective use of resources. The training needs of the officials were not assessed and prioritized.


DDM Response

The Director of the DDM thanked the RAA for the report and its findings and said the recommendations would facilitate in enhancing and carrying out the mandate entrusted to DDM by the Act.

He said the Parliament would take the observations and recommendations seriously and render due guidance to the government to strengthen Disaster Risk Management.

He said in regard to sectoral coordination the DDM will fix responsibilities to concerned stakeholders after they receive further directions from the Parliament or NDMA.



The report at the same time also highlights some positive achievements. It says the Parliament in 2013 passed the Disaster Management Act providing a legal framework and policy regime.

One of the most important initiatives of the government in the 11th plan is to mainstream disaster risk reduction in policies and programs.

DDM had provided Community Based Disaster Risk Management to all 20 Dzongkhags.

Department of Hydromet Services successfully installed Automated Early Warning System for flood in GLOF affected areas like Punakha. Wangdue, Mangdechu and Chamkhar valleys.

‘Education In Emergencies’ Unit in Ministry of Education in collaboration with DDM successfully created awareness among school children on earthquake and fire hazards through disaster preparedness drills. Moreover, all schools have a disaster management contingency plan and conduct safety drills twice a year.

DDM has created awareness on potential disasters and its impact by way of advocacy and using the media.

The concerned agencies were able to secure funds and other resources for management of disasters from various countries and donor agencies.

The government represented by the Home and Finance Ministries drew up a MoU with RICBL on a scheme to extend insurance coverage to all rural houses in the country.

The report says that the biggest positive force in disaster response and relief so far has been His Majesty The King through the institution of Relief Fund, 2,264 trained De-Suung and a system of placing Kidu officers in all Dzongkhags to facilitate timely intervention during times of disaster.

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