The department is still soliciting funds to set up a national emergency operation centre

DDM: More than a year after the enactment of the Disaster Management Act, the disaster management department (DDM) is still soliciting funds to establish a national emergency operation centre.

The centre is a critical component of the national disaster management system and the disaster management authority led by the Prime Minister has asked DDM to establish it at the earliest.

Establishing a centre with the capacity to cover the whole country requires Nu 400M but, for the first phase, the department is still hoping to receive a budget of Nu 79M.

Three buildings above the Bhutan Broadcasting Service office in Chubachu, Thimphu have been identified for the centre.

DDM officials said if the structures were handed over to the department by April, and funds became available, then a basic set up could be established by July this year.

DDM director Chador Wangdi said the new centre would have basic equipment to at least cover disaster events within Thimphu.

“Although a necessity during disasters, as mobile phones get jammed, communication instruments, such as satellite phones, are expensive,” the director said.

In absence of the centre, the director said an instant command centre that coordinates during any emergency was missing which made it difficult to coordinate even during a small forest fire incident.

“There’s no one to take care of logistics, such as distributing water and food to the fire fighters or any other workers during a disaster,” Chador Wangdi said, adding that the Gross National Happiness Commission was concerned and aggressively mobilising funds for the centre. “Building infrastructure is a major problem at the moment,” he said.

The Disaster Management Act was enacted in November 2013 and its rules and regulations, launched yesterday, mandate the department to establish a national emergency operation centre, including dzongkhag emergency operation centres.

While there were no policies or guidelines in the country before, the government adopted the national disaster risk management framework in 2006.

The 2009 May floods across the country, and the September 11 earthquake took 25 lives and caused damage to properties worth Nu 3B.

Launching the rules and other guidelines yesterday, home minister Damcho Dorji said disaster management planning and implementation at the national or local level did not draw sufficient attention in the past because of the absence of a dedicated and devolved disaster management system backed by legal instruments.

“Nonetheless, the government invested a fair amount of resources in initiating and strengthening the community based disaster risk management throughout the country as a process to enable them to develop their own disaster management plans,” the minister said.

A series of disaster events in the country, culminated in enacting the disaster management act and the rules.  The rules and regulations and the guidelines developed through World Bank support are expected to bring about a consistent approach to disaster management.

“While in most cases, disasters can’t be prevented, we can minimise the losses by adopting a holistic approach by integrating all aspects of disaster management from mitigation and prevention until effective response and recovery,” lyonpo Damcho Dorji said.

According to the rules and regulations, dzongkhags’ disaster management plans and contingency plans would be developed and mainstreamed in the five-year plans for resource allocation and implementation.

The dzongkhag disaster management planning guidelines and contingency planning guidelines were developed to facilitate disaster management and contingency planning process by the dzongkhag disaster management committees.

DDM has also trained 20 officials for search and rescue operations, but most of the time they were hard to come by as they were engaged in their own duties.

Therefore, the department has begun training search and rescue teams in the dzongkhags.

“We’ve trained teams of 12-15 members in 13 dzongkhags and equipped them with Nu 600,000 worth of basic kit containing portable searchlight, and ropes,” the director said.

The department will complete training rescue and search teams in all the dzongkhags and thromdes by the end of this year.

By July this year, the department will complete setting up seven seismic stations in Thimphu, Trashigang, Mongar, Samtse, Trongsa, Punakha, and Zhemgang, which, when complete, will transmit real time date to the centre at the hydromet department.  JICA is funding the project.

By Tshering Palden