April 4 windstorm costs mount

Damage assessment from the field proves to be more than initial estimates 

Disaster: Even as the assessment of damage caused by the April 4 windstorm to rural homes across 11 districts is not yet complete, preliminary estimates show that the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan (RICBL) is likely to bear over Nu 15M as compensation for about 900 houses.

Although the department of disaster management (DDM) shows about 883 rural houses affected in nine districts, RICBL reported damage from two more districts, Haa and Bumthang.  About 10 houses in Gakiling, Haa and one in Bumthang were also affected by the windstorm.

RICBL officials said more houses reported damages in the field when their officials visited the sites.  For instance, Gedu alone reported about 250 houses, although DDM reports stated about 140 houses being affected.

RICBL’s general manager, Sangay Wangdi, said almost 95 percent of the affected villages have been covered so far.

“Our officials have to walk for three to four days to reach far-flung villages,” Sangay Wangdi said. “To reach the affected villages in Gakiling, Haa, which borders Samtse, our officials have to walk from Samtse.”

With the assessment complete for Chukha, RICBL officials said they would start disbursing the claims from Monday.

During the assessment, it was found that a few affected houses were not insured.  Officials said, like any other insurance scheme, the rural insurance scheme is also not mandatory.

Insurance for traditional rural houses is categorised into four schemes, of which the highest is Nu 300,000 and the lowest Nu 60,000. RICBL’s rural household insurance scheme covers about 66,000 houses across the country.  As per the rural house insurance scheme guidelines, all claims have to be settled within a month from the date of registration of claims.  In 2013, officials said they settled the claims within 15 days.

Although RICBL has branch offices in all the affected districts, an additional 15 engineers and 10 officials from the Phuentsholing and Thimphu offices have been deployed in the fields.

The DDM report, as of April 7, states that about 883 rural houses, 62 schools, eight health facilities, 21 lhakhangs and choetens and 15 public infrastructures were damaged by the windstorm.  In all, 989 structures reported damages for which about 550 tarpaulin sheets were distributed, besides dignity kits.

Dagana was the worst hit, with damage to about 360 houses and government structures, followed by Chukha with 228 houses and government structures.  Samtse and Pemagatshel had about 267 and 49 houses and government structures affected respectively.

However, none of the government structures were insured.  Renovation works on government structures like schools, hostels, and health facilities in all affected districts began almost immediately after the windstorm.

Dagana dzongdag Tenzin Thinley said, although insurance would have helped carry out restoration works, some structures were old and not worth insuring, as the premium could escalate. “The decision to insure lies with the government, as dzongkhags don’t have the budget to do so, but it also becomes the question of affordability with many government structures,” he said.

In Samtse, Sengdhen primary school was hit the worst among the schools affected by the windstorm.  With roofs of about six classrooms and the staff quarter blown off, classes for junior students have not yet resumed.  With repair works completed in three classrooms, classes for senior students started yesterday.

Dzongdag Karma Weezir said, with the help of army personnel and villagers, renovation works were in full swing. “We expect to complete it as soon as possible,” he said.

Most villagers in Chukha, according to dzongdag Pemba Wangchuk, are still staying in the same houses even though the roofs have been completely or partially blown off.  They have been provided tarpaulin sheets for now.

He said assessment of damages to government structures is also underway. “We’ve been focusing on rural houses to help speed up the insurance claims,” he said.

By Kinga Dema

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