Many Bhutanese, who were disturbed by a viral video of a flash flood washing away oxen in Trashiyangtse on the evening of August 8, had to wake up yesterday morning to another tragic news of missing boys.
Serkang stream in Trashiyangtse has a history of swelling unpredictably, especially on auspicious days like 15th and 30th day of the Bhutanese calendar. Residents of Choeten Kora town have been living in fear for decades. In 2016, residents had to evacuate at midnight after the stream swelled.
Experts say climate change is bringing in more water-induced disasters. Flash floods are becoming more common. It is the biggest threat in the country. With no control over it, the least we can do is to prepare the communities for such a disaster.
Residents in Choeten Kora town approached authorities to initiate precautionary measures. They wanted a siren system near the source of the stream to alert them about the danger. Their plea fell on deaf ears.
We have had many tragedies. We are yet to recover from the Chukha incident in July 2009, where swollen Wangchhu washed away seven boys and the authorities and family members were left watching helplessly.
There are numerous questions that remain unanswered. How long are we going to keep facing and hearing about such preventable tragedies? How long should we keep on losing innocent lives to flash floods? Why do our children have to keep going to streams and rivers to swim?
Even in urban areas like Thimphu and Paro, high-end hotels impacted by Covid-19 allow locals to use swimming facilities, but not many can afford it. The famous swimming pool in Thimphu has remained under lock and key for a while now. Without any swimming and recreational facilities, youth will take the risk.
When there is no way to stop children from going to the river, it is the responsibility of the government, dzongkhag and gewog authorities to sensitise about the dangers. Local leaders and school authorities are expected to educate the youth. The need of the hour is flash flood forecasting and early warnings.
It will not be a surprise if the Department of Disaster Management issues a public notification, cautioning the public about the dangers of going near the river after this incident.
This is the typical way of the Bhutanese bureaucratic response. Everything will be forgotten in a few months’ time, except the families of the boys who will have to live with the tragedy forever.
We cannot afford to lose young lives to the swollen streams and rivers every year. It’s time we addressed the issue instead of blaming it as the misfortune of the boys. Every life is precious.