The medical team will be operating in Lamjung, the epicentre of the quake

Relief: Bhutan has contributed Nu 63M (million) or USD 1M to Nepal for rehabilitation efforts following the April 25 earthquake.

This is the first time Bhutan has assisted another country with such a significant amount.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay personally handed over a cheque for USD 1M to Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala in Kathmandu, yesterday. The USD 1M is a contribution from the people of Bhutan to the people of Nepal.

Lyonchoen also conveyed His Majesty the King’s deep concern and anguish for the people of Nepal and for their sufferings as a result of the earthquake.

His Majesty the King, the Gyaltsuen and government representatives offered 1,000 butter lamps at the Kuenrey of the Tashichhodzong and offered prayers for the victims of the earthquake.

Prime Minister Koirala said Nepal was grateful and touched by the visit and assistance. “The affection and commitment to Nepal by His Majesty the King, the Royal Government of Bhutan and the people of Bhutan is a great inspiration which will be remembered by the people of Nepal and carried in their hearts for a long time to come,” he said.

Lyonchoen had travelled to Nepal on a special Drukair relief flight that also had onboard a 63 member medical team dispatched to assist the Nepalese people, upon the Royal Command of His Majesty the King.

This is also the first time Bhutan has deployed such a large relief team outside its borders in response to a natural disaster.

The team is comprised of a medical unit made up of 11 of the country’s top doctors, surgeons and specialists, and is led by His Majesty the King’s personal royal physician.

Nurses, technicians and support staff of the health ministry and Royal Bhutan Army will assist the team. A team of 15 DeSuups, including two women, is also part of the medical team, which was coordinated by the Kidu Mobile Medical Unit of His Majesty’s Secretariat.

Following a visit to Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Lyonchoen and the Bhutanese delegation returned to Bhutan.

Speaking to Kuensel, health minister Tandin Wangchuk, who also accompanied Lyonchoen to Nepal, pointed out that His Majesty the King had said that Bhutan must assist Nepal being a neighbour and that Bhutan must treat the disaster as if it had happened in Bhutan itself.

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said that the medical team would be in Nepal for as long as its services are required.

The team will in fact be moving to Lamjung, the epicenter of the earthquake, located 77km north-west of Kathmandu shortly. It is currently based in a Nepalese army camp. Lyonpo said that it was felt the team would be needed more in that area as rural Nepal has been affected more severely.

The team will assist in medical treatment of victims and is equipped to set up outdoor medical camps. They are carrying 12 tons of medicines, medical equipment and relief materials, including clothes and blankets from His Majesty the King.

The medical team can sustain on its food supplies for two weeks and will be re-supplied by air until it can obtain supplies locally.

On whether Bhutan may be providing any additional assistance, Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said that the Nepalese government had not made any request for more help from Bhutan, yesterday. Lyonchoen had expressed Bhutan’s readiness to help in anyway it can to the Nepalese prime minister.

A total of 228 people, including at least seven foreigners, were evacuated by the two airlines from Kathmandu airport, yesterday. Stranded Bhutanese were not charged fares by the two airlines and the costs are likely to be worked out between the government and the airlines later. National airline Drukair conducted two relief flights bringing in 197 passengers, while Tashi Air flew in 31. Both airlines also carried a few tons of relief supplies into Kathmandu.

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said that as telecommunications in Nepal are still down, it has not yet been determined how many Bhutanese in total are stranded in Nepal. He added that the government is attempting to use alternative forms of communications like social media to reach stranded Bhutanese and inform them of the availability of relief flights. He also said that Bhutanese working in Nepal have volunteered to stay on and attempt to reach out to stranded Bhutanese.

Lyonpo said that the government is aware that many Bhutanese are camped outdoors in tents and have been traumatised by the disaster. He pointed out that both airlines have assured the government that relief flights will continue to be carried out when required.

It was also pointed out that the disaster in Nepal had shown that traditional and old structures are vulnerable to earthquakes. Lyonpo said that similarly, such structures in Bhutan too are vulnerable. He added that the government would shortly meet with all relevant agencies to implement whatever strategies and measure to increase earthquake resistance of infrastructure. He added that even modern structures may not be up to required standards and the issue has to be studied.

The Department of Disaster Management has also been instructed to be ready for such events, Lyonpo said.

National flags in Bhutan were flown at half-mast to mourn the lives lost in Nepal, yesterday. As of last night, the death toll in Nepal had reached 3,900.

The foreign ministry has issued an advisory that asks Bhutanese not to travel to Nepal until further notice.

By Gyalsten K Dorji