YK Poudel

Frequent slope disasters like slope failures and debris flows disrupt national highways, affecting transportation networks and economic activities.

During the third technical discussion held yesterday in Thimphu on “Project for capacity development on countermeasures of slope disaster on roads in Bhutan”, technological interventions, upscaling the technology and maintenance were discussed.

The project worth Nu 62.5 million for construction of countermeasure structures that started in January 2019 will end in July this year.

Secretary of MoIT, Phuntsho Tobgay, said that the project would help the Department of Surface Transport (DoST) manage and mitigate the slope disasters and in planning countermeasures.

“With its six-major outputs the department will be able to replicate these pilot projects across the country, as well as enhance information dissemination on disasters and traffic control,” he said. “The guidelines is instrumental resource for future reference for project development and execution.”

The six-major outputs of the project are: traffic control before the event, suitable bio-engineering works against debris slope failure, standards for cut slope angles for debris and rock slope failure, suitable countermeasure works for rock slope failure, suitable drainage works and facilities for debris flow, and develop information system on slope disasters and traffic controls on road. 

Bhutan’s 12th Plan aimed at developing robust road networks, accessible throughout the year, reducing travel time and maintenance. To meet this, Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) provided financial and technical expertise assistance.

MoIT with the GovTech Agency are preparing to roll out a web-based application, ‘Bhutan Road Safety’ system accessible both on smartphones and computers for real-time updates.

It has been integrated into the Geographic Information System (GIS) database of MoIT which will be made available to the officials and general public in the near future. 

Officiating director general of DoST, Tshewang Dorji, said that all the major outputs had been achieved and the project was scheduled to end in July this year. 

“The techniques we have implemented under this project, the manuals and guidelines developed will be used for all the projects that will be executed under the DoST in its 13th Plan,” Tshewang Dorji said.

The department also plans to integrate the website with other agencies for seamless action and intervention.

A DoST engineer, Leki Drakpa, said that besides information about roadblocks, the system would also provide information about ongoing road maintenance activities and cautionary information for the travellers. “The timely update will be made by regional and sub-divisional offices.”

According to him, all the road details across the country have been integrated, the historical records of disasters at prominent hotspots have been captured in the GIS database with the data from regional and divisional offices.

As a part of the pilot project, suitable drains were constructed with culverts on highways to ensure the smooth flow of debris. Such culverts and drains were built in Bjee in Trongsa, Khelekha in Punakha, and Samdrupcholing in Samdrupjongkhar.

Once the pilot project ends, Bhutanese experts at the DoST will take up the implementation of the measures.

MoIT secretary, Phuntsho Tobgay, chief representative of JICA Bhutan Office, Tomoyuki Yamada, and over 70 participants, including engineers, contractors, and researchers from across the country took part in the discussion.