It was all about “what ifs” at a meeting of heads of agencies and organisations to discuss our disaster preparedness.

The picture presented was gloomy as members discussed worst-case scenarios.  What if our buildings in the city collapsed, mobile network got clogged or road network were disrupted severely when an earthquake of a huge magnitude hit us?  As they brainstormed for ideas, there are not many things in place.  But it was a good beginning and an important meeting.

Following a directive from the prime minister, sub-committees for disaster preparedness are at work.  The end result will be a solid and a comprehensive plan for implementation.  It will cover earthquake preparedness, a national relief plan for smooth search and rescue operations, and establishment of a national emergency operation centre.

Although this is not the first time sector heads met to discuss such issues following disasters, the recent earthquakes in Nepal have jolted us.  It is good that we are shaken.  Geographically, there are a lot of similarities between Nepal and us.  Both are located in a fragile Himalayan ecosystem, villages are scattered, and we sit on the same plate that experts warn is not the safest.

We will face the same situation our neighbour went through in an event of a major earthquake.  Without plans, panic will set in and even make relief and rescue operations complicated.  At the meeting of media transport and ICT sub-committee, a lot of ideas and solutions were discussed, indicating that it is important to involve all sectors and that we can prepare.

Natural disasters affect us all.  It is best to involve all and not only leave it to the disaster management department, which some say will be the first to suffer, given the present condition from where they operate.  There is no warning of disasters coming, especially earthquakes.  We know the danger is impending and it is just a question of when.

If it happens tomorrow, it is our bad luck, but if it is coming in the next 10 or 15 years, we have enough time to be prepared.  Every agency and organisation, including private sector, should get involved in ensuring minimal damage or quick relief, for disasters will not differentiate between private and public sectors.

For the government, a concrete disaster preparedness plan should be high on its priority list.

Members pointed out that such meetings are called for after every disaster to be quickly forgotten.  This should not be the case now.  It would be our failure to be not prepared when we have learnt enough lessons and are warned that it is coming.

Nobody can prevent a natural disaster from happening.  But everybody can be prepared.  In Bhutan, we have a rich bank of old wisdom to learn from.  One such is related to preparedness.

“Conduct your ritual before you are struck by disease; build your canals before the water comes.”