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The nation yesterday woke up to tragic news. Ten cordyceps collectors from Laya lost their lives as landslide swept away their camps near Tshari-Jathang, a day’s walk up the towering mountains from Laya.

The highlanders were in the mountains collecting cordyceps since May 17. Some of them were returning home to their families when the incident occurred.

The injured were flown to Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu. It would have been a difficult rescue operation had it not been for the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services. The response of the local leaders and the rescue teams should be appreciated for the promptness with which they acted and organised the operation.

For the abruptness and the magnitude with which it hit us, the incident will remain in our hearts and minds for a long time.

Natural disasters are beyond human control. And being in the Himalayas, we are constantly reminded of our vulnerabilities which they will only grow in the future. Vagaries of weather and changing climate are some of the new realities that we are forced to confront, sometimes with human lives.

Sources say that yesterday’s landslide in Laya could have been triggered by heavy and continuous rainfall in the past few days. Data with the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM), for June, recorded the highest rainfall of 23mm on June 14. On June 15, the station in Gasa recorded 13.6mm of rainfall.

In the mountains, weather and other natural elements can have devastating impact. We haven’t forgotten the 1994 GLOF and windstorms of 2011, 2013 and 2014. Rainfall-induced floods and landslides are becoming increasingly common.

So, what do we do?

We know that we are surrounded by such dangers. Next, we need to prepare and inform the people about impending disasters, especially those who live in and around the risk-prone areas. That’s disaster preparedness at the basic level and we clearly need to do more. Awareness and education help because it is always far more important than just identifying the risks.

Disaster management has always received special priority, as it must, but we could take hands-on training to the villages so that future disasters can be averted without having to fly rescue teams to the distant mountains. In the long run this would be cheaper for the country. More important, however, we would have saved many a precious life.

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