Disaster: The government, at a press conference yesterday, said people should not panic about food and fuel supplies since the country has adequate reserves to last months.
Agriculture and forests minister Yeshey Dorji said that the country has reserves of rice, salt and cooking oil in the warehouses of the Food Corporation of Bhutan all over the country. “Every dzongkhag has adequate food to last for over three months at minimum,” Lyonpo said.
However, the gewogs do not. Therefore, priority will now be on establishing a warehouse each in all of the 205 gewog farm shops. “If we can stock food in farm shops adequately, there won’t be food shortage during such disasters even if gewogs are cut off for months,” he said.
For instance, the food shortage in Nimtola was not because of lack of food in the dzongkhag but at the gewog level. Food supplies were airlifted to the cut off chiwog yesterday.
Lyonpo also said the introduction of new varieties of crops like spring maize will help overcome food shortages. “Because the spring maize is harvested in May-June, no food shortage will be felt like before during cultivation season,” he said.
On fuel, Lyonchoen said people should not have panicked. “That was quite unnecessary. That was depleting reserves unnecessarily,” he said, adding 35 kilolitres of petrol was dispensed in one day in Thimphu because of hoarding. “We never announced that we were going to ration,” he said.
Economic affairs minister, Lekey Dorji said no rationing was done because it would have caused unnecessary alarm despite having adequate fuel reserves.
However, 35 kilolitres of petrol and 32 kilolitres of diesel were being dispensed daily as a result of the roadblocks. “Even at that rate we estimated that the country could have gone without panicking for over 18 days,” Lyonpo said, adding that currently the country needs only around 15 kilolitres of fuel a day.
The minister said that even the capital had enough fuel reserves of 450,000 litres. The five fuel depots in the city have a capacity of 190,000 litres for petrol and 260,000 litres of diesel. “That actually is enough to last for at least 10 days,” he said.
For back up, the government also had 300,000 litres of petrol and 700,000 litres of diesel at Dechencholing. “In the west there is no problem since we have 165,000 litres of petrol and 180,000 litres of diesel just in five fuel depots,” he said, adding that the Dechencholing reserve had 66,000 litres of petrol and 501,000 litres of diesel as of yesterday.
By yesterday, 59 tankers had arrived with fuel since the Pasakha-Manitar bypass was opened. He said that the government is planning to open similar reserve tanks in the east.
Lyonchoen added that people were also spreading panic and hoarding fuel. “If you need fuel take but don’t take more than what you require,” he said.
Should a similar situation arise, he said that everyone should cooperate, educate and learn to share during shortages. “If you don’t have to travel far, you could walk or take a taxi or a bus. That is equally contributing to overcoming a national problem,” he said.
Ensuring safety in the south
Works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden said that while the ministry has been securing riverbanks, it was exploring a holistic project to tame not just the Setikharay stream but the Maokhola river, and other seasonal streams.
On Amochhu, Lyonpo said that the reclamation project is finalised with funding from the Asian Development Bank. “Once the reclamation project begins, there should be walls big and strong enough to protect the settlements around it,” she said.
On Sarpang, a new town area has been identified in Shaychangthang. A local area plan, map and plotting are complete. “Once the residents have their lagthrams, they can start construction in the new town plan area which will be safe from floods,” she said.
Lyonchoen added that it is important to develop early warning systems in all the river basins and build embankments in flood-vulnerable areas. “Our priority is to save lives. This is why we are happy that the loss of life has been absolutely minimum,” he said.
Though there were reports of crop damage in Samdrupjongkhar and Samtse, the major damage is in Umling and Chuzergang in Gelephu where over 30 acres of wetland were affected and nine acres were washed away.
“But for now a retaining wall has been constructed with the help of around 1,800 people from neighbouring villages and civil servants,” Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said.
Free power tiller services and seeds have been provided to the affected households. “The government is also pushing on crop insurance with insurance companies to be completed this year,” Lyonpo said.
With hospitals running out of oxygen, requiring the army to transship around 400 cylinders over the Kamji area recently, the government has decided to keep a provision of at least a week’s supply for all time. “The government also decided to develop a facility to refill the cylinders inside the country without having to send it outside for replenishing,” Lyonchoen said.