Credible information crucial in times of disaster

The April 28 earthquake caused structural damage to religious monuments, school buildings and traditional houses.  It even injured a few people.

This is the second jolt in the month. The previous one on April 5 with 5.4 magnitude struck near the Sikkim-Bhutan border. It was a minor one without any damage.

Located in the Himalayas, Bhutan is susceptible to seismic hazards. It experienced several other earthquakes in the past.

Studies claimed it is prone to high magnitude earthquakes. So, even if we cannot predict when a disaster would occur, we have to prepare how to respond to it. Disasters are increasing and intensifying.

Going by how the disaster management officials would take a week to complete compiling reports on the damage in the dzongkhags, questions arise on the seriousness in our response to disasters.

The Department of Disaster Management is mandated to establish and operationlise emergency operation centres and also ensure its functionality. Compiling the complete report would take time but officials and the website should have basic information.

The lack of information was a grim reminder of the situation in 2011 when a 6.9 magnitude earthquake claimed lives and damaged properties. Local residents reported major damages and the department’s record initially showed otherwise.

Studies have recommended the need to improve readiness for earthquake preparedness and response. It should start from the department. If the officials do not have information on the disaster, how and where would the response begin?

Communication, information sharing and coordination among disaster stakeholders should be enhanced.

Recommendations have also been made for effective communication, but it has not made much progress. Past experiences have shown that when there is no communication, people lose trust and faith in the system.

Providing credible and timely information from reliable sources is also important, as social media is flooded with rumours and images after the disaster.

As the country vulnerable to natural disasters, especially earthquake, windstorm, floods, landslide, we must build community resilience. Windstorm has devastated residents of Zhemgang and Pemagatshel. Forest fire is ravaging Punakha.

Communities should be prepared. We don’t have to wait for major disasters to raise public and political awareness of impending risks.

Constant awareness and education is a must on what people should do in times of disaster. Saving life and structures requires preparation at a local level. Preparedness is the key to manage disasters.

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