Choki Wangmo | Paro

In a worst-case scenario of an earthquake at night in Bhutan, there could be at least 9,000 fatalities, 10,000 serious injuries and 40,000 people displaced.

These are findings of an earthquake impact assessment simulation of EquiP-Bhutan project conducted jointly by the World Food Programme and Tom Robinson (PhD) of Newscastle and Durham University in consultation with the Department of Disaster Management (DDM).

The findings also state there would be half as many fatalities and injuries during night, but the number of displaced people would increase to 45,000.

DDM’s Director General, Jigme Thinley Namgyal, said figures presented in the worst-case scenario was alarming and comprises of about five percent of the population.

Earthquake risk is highly concentrated in Wangdue, Punakha, Thimphu, and Paro with 33 gewogs and thromdes comprising 33 percent of the national population.

Thimphu has the highest impacts with 1,500 serious injuries, 1,500 fatalities and 1,500 displaced people.

In his virtual presentation, Tom Robinson said that the impact was because of the high population density.  “Thimphu Thromde is at a higher risk and account for the majority of fatalities, injuries, and displacement within the dzongkhag.”

Since constructions in the western side of the country are adobe buildings, earthquakes in the region could result in at least three times more damage. “Adobe structures have high fatality rate since its collapse would kill more people,” Tom Robinson said. “The resiliency of the buildings to earthquake is dependent on the construction method and wall materials.”

The study modelled a range of different earthquakes to account for multiple scenarios since the size, location, and types of earthquakes that affect Bhutan remains unknown. It used earthquake magnitudes ranging from 7.0 to 8.5.

Tom Robinson said that the Himalayan region has some of the highest earthquake risks globally due to large populations, earthquake potential, and construction style but the risk is poorly understood compared to other earthquake-prone regions globally. “The research on earthquake risk in Bhutan is notably sparse.”

In 2009, earthquake in the east with 6.1 magnitude caused 10 fatalities and more than 1,000 buildings were damaged.

The study recommended the need to develop and practice response and coordination amongst the humanitarian clusters through the use of periodic simulation exercises to identify current gaps and to improve readiness for earthquake preparedness and response.

It also recommended public awareness and community resilience, data needs and availability, and building codes.

After the three-day information dissemination workshop which ends tomorrow, DDM is planning to conduct a functional simulation exercise in early 2021 to test decision making procedures, assessment protocols, and business continuity plans.

The simulation workshop is expected to provide an opportunity to enhance communication, information sharing and coordination among disaster response actors.