Lack of budget and expertise slowing disaster preparedness measures

Disaster: Three years on after the enactment of the Disaster Management Act, the government is working on instituting measures in place to manage disasters.

Bhutan lies in an area prone to earthquakes, and is vulnerable to glacial lake outburst floods, forest fires, and landslides.

While the government has learnt lessons from past earthquakes and the 2015 Nepal earthquake, budget and expertise constraints are limiting the pace of the progress in preparedness.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that disaster management preparation is very expensive. “Yet it has to be done,” Lyonchoen said at the recent Meet -the-Press.

The national contingency plan, and a few dzongkhags have contingency plans. Paro, Chukha, Trongsa and Thimphu have prepared contingency plans. The ministry is working in forming committees in dzongkhags and gewogs led by the dzongdags and gups respectively.

“This way we are putting strategies in place,” home minister Dawa Gyaltshen said.

At the national level we have a search and rescue team, and every dzongkhag has a search and rescue team too.

However, the members of the search and rescue teams are civil servants and there are two problems associated with that.

“As interested as they may be, they may not be capable, and even if they are, they may not be available for full time capacity enhancement,” lyonchoen said.

As and when they are transferred, the search and rescues teams that have been trained and are in place will disintegrate.

During the midterm review, the government decided that the fire department will be given the responsibility of search and rescue.

He said that the government will continue to maintain the national and dzongkhag search and rescue teams, Lyonchoen said.

The government has decided to provide specific and specialised search and rescue training to the fire brigade.

“That will help better prepare our readiness to disasters in future,” Lyonchoen said.

Lyonpo Dawa Gyaltshen said: “We may not be fully ready to face disasters, we’re starting with a humble beginning.”

The ministry has trained dzongkhag disaster focal persons to have committees in the dzongkhags. “With limited resources, we’re taking time but surely everything will be in place,” the home minister said.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said the actual preparation will take time.

The government held several meetings with experts and a committee was formed. “In health ministry, we’re much more prepared now than before even up to the Basic Health Unit level,” he said.

Cabinet members said that it would take time to implement everything that is on paper.

“All said and done, there’ll be certain lapses because we’re still learning and we’ve to keep on improving,” Lyonpo said.

He added that the government has approved a budget to retrofit the ramp in the new building of JDWNR hospital after assessments found it would not stand up to a major earthquake.

He said the ministry has started assessing hospital buildings in dzongkhags for earthquake resilience. “It involves lots of cost and experts,” Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said.

Information and communications minister DN Dhungyel said that even if communication fails from the network clogging during disasters, measures are being taken. “We’re discussing with telecom service providers how we can reserve the traffic for important telephones numbers in dzongkhags just to pass on information and to make sure that services reach the needy,” he said.

Tshering Palden

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