In times of disasters

Four dedicated servicemen lost their lives trying to save the lives of five people.  Sadness gripped the nation as the news reached people. But with the news of the tragic event sinking in, the spirits and thoughts of the Bhutanese are with the four soldiers who lost their lives in the line of duty.

We could only imagine the relief on the face of the stranded people when they saw the soldiers get ready to come to their rescue.

His Majesty The King yesterday posthumously awarded the Drakpoi Khorlo Medal, an award for bravery, to the four soldiers. His Majesty has also commanded that the bereaved families would continue to receive salaries, allowances, and all benefits that the soldiers would have received during their service and in their retirement.

His Majesty cut short his visit to Haa and rushed to the rescue site in Gelephu. Such noble gestures encourage our servicemen and those in the frontline to give their best when in the line of duty. It is in the image and the concerns of His Majesty The King that the people feel reassured in dark and testing times.

It was a tense moment in Gelephu on Monday night. Soldiers, DeSuups, police, dzongkhag and forestry officials stayed the whole night up to ensure that the people stranded were brought to safety. It is now emerging that it was a massive rescue operation where 21 people had to be rescued in rain,under the cover of darkness. The last was one rescued at 11:20 am yesterday.

The whole nation woke up to the tragic news. Then there were questions such as how the rescue operation went wrong? Why could people not be alerted of the rising river level? Or whether the rescue team was equipped with the right gear to risk their lives.

While we may brush this aside as a case of getting wiser after the event, we could take some lessons from this incident.

Maochhu is a notorious river. It is too small to wade across in winter and too big that it causes havoc in the plains every monsoon. A brief downpour and the river or its tributaries turn wild, damaging properties and agriculture land.

In hindsight, an early warning system in place could save lives, if not properties. It is said that during disaster every second matters. Disasters come without warning, but we can warn, for instance, people living downstream or picnicking on the banks if a heavy downpour in the catchment area is going to cause a flash flood.

Given our vulnerability to natural disasters, early warning systems along the Maochhu banks could play a critical role in saving lives.

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