The various ministries, sectors and agencies have yet to coordinate their efforts

Disaster: Although Bhutan is theoretically prepared for a bigger disaster, it’s yet to have a standard action plan for coordination and preparation.   Bhutan also requires clear operation procedures during national disasters.

As of today, each ministry, sector and agency was found working on its own identified preparedness plans, but without crosschecking duplication of activities.

Five ministries, department of geology and mines, department of culture and department of disaster management (DDM) presented preparedness plan, to the special committee for disaster preparedness yesterday.

For instance, the ministry of information and communications (MoIC) will take care of media, ICT and transportation.  An independent set of cellular network or “cellular on wheel” will be put in place through which public will be notified immediately.

Preparation of a map containing runways and helipad (football fields included) is also being coordinated, which will be given to DDM for relief and rescue coordination.  For international aid transportation, the ministry will communicate with the Indian government for a strong agreement to use Bagdogra and Guwahati airports.

The ministry of foreign affairs will serve as the channel of communication between the government of Bhutan and external partners.

It will also mobilise, coordinate, facilitate foreign assistance and look into safety of foreigners and arrange their evacuation.  All foreign missions, regional and international agencies will be updated on any emergency situation that may require external assistance.

Ministry of education has been already preparing students for almost five years now, and has trained core working group members for more sustainable disaster risk reduction.

However, it was found that, in terms of health service, the country has no stock of medical supplies, should a disaster strike Bhutan any time now.

The health ministry needs to immediately replenish medicine worth Nu 3.987M (million) to its 30 percent buffer stock.  The buffer stock was sent with the Nepal medical relief team.  An estimation of Nu 28.72M has been worked out by the ministry as cost of pre-positions or stock piling of medical supplies.

Health secretary, Dr Dorji Wangchuk said, among others, deployment of ambulance was a big challenge today, and that there was an urgent need to carry out simulation exercises.

“Each hospital needs to come up with standard operation procedures,” he said. “We also need to make 95 percent of medical supplies available in all districts.”

Meanwhile, by the end of this year, the seismology and geophysics division of the economic affairs ministry will have in place a probabilistic seismic hazard map for Bhutan. The map is expected to provide a better picture of occurrence of earthquakes.

Highlighting some of the immediate needs of the country, DDM director Chhador Wangdi said, at least Nu 132M was required to set up four regional and a national emergency operating centres (equipped).

He also said there was a need for urban search and rescue equipment. “The basic equipment distributed do not include equipment to deal with damages, such as building collapse,” the director said.

The special committee will meet for the third time on June 1 where the DDM will compile, analyse and present a standard action plan.

Although the special “high-level” committee is formed following directives from the prime minister, it is not clear where the committee fits in during a national disaster.

Chairman of the committee and home minister, Damcho Dorji, said it was important to sort if the committee should function as that of the disaster management department.

“We have to have a contingency plan to coordinate relevant stakeholders so that there is no duplication of work,” he said.

By Nirmala Pokhrel