A timely reminder

Aum Dem, a farmer from Wangduephodrang who was attending a wedding ceremony in Thimphu yesterday best described what farmers go through when it rains around this time.

Sipping on a coke, she said her mind was in Matalungchu, her village, thinking of the amount of ready to harvest paddy that had been destroyed by the October 13 hailstorm. She skimmed over the fields walking down to the road head yesterday morning. The hail, she said, even killed sprouting spinach, a winter crop in her village and a source of cash income for her.

In some parts of the country, farmers and officials are already assessing the damage left by the rain and hail. Farmers go through a panicky harvest every year as the returning monsoon brings along rain and storms with them. In recent years, we have often been reporting of damaged harvests as the rains coincide with the harvest season.

The October 13 hail coincided with the international day for disaster reduction. In Thimphu school children displayed their models on how to mitigate disasters as Bhutan joined the international community in observing the day. The rain and hail came as another reminder to be prepared.

The image of disaster for most of us is massive earthquakes, like the one in 2011 or glacial lake outburst floods of 1994 in the Punakha-Wangdue valley. Freak weather conditions are one source of disasters that we should be wary about as we emphasize on preparedness. A few days of rain or a few hours of hail can damage the entire yield at this time of the year. Our farmers will tell how frequent it has become.

Farming in the country is mostly subsistent farming. As farmers grow only enough to feed their family and perhaps a little cash income, too little or too much rain can play a large impact on their livelihoods. From our experience, a delayed monsoon makes farmers struggle for food to last until the next plantation season. A huge section of the people will be affected suddenly. Imported rice may be cheaper, but cost of food shoots up during disasters. This is only if the region if not affected with similar problems.

As we talk about “sharing responsibility and thinking seriously” on how we can collectively prepare for disaster management, it is crucial to look into the farming sector. With a possibility of an El Nino building up in the tropics, we are increasingly warned about strange weather patterns. El Nino is a phenomenon that occurs after certain years, more damaging to our farmers and to us is the threat from climate change.

We are increasingly hearing of drying water sources both for drinking and irrigation, foreign weeds and pests. Disaster hitting the agriculture sector could seriously dent our dream of food security. We are aware that we will be victims of disturbed natural balance even if it is not our doing. The government might come to the rescue to provide food during disasters, but that is not the best preparation.

There is no alternative but taking food security as a top priority as we continuously meet to discuss our preparedness and prevention during disasters.

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