Old and vulnerable: Khaling town

Neten Dorji | Khaling

Clustered, old and traditional, the Khaling town between Trashigang and Samdrupjongkhar that started as a trading centre and tea break point for traveller in the late 1960s had not changed much.

What has also not changed is the town’s vulnerability to disasters, especially fire. The only change is the number of people and businesses, some temporary, which is adding to the vulnerability.

Residents have realised this and are asking for safety measures.

“We had disasters in several town like Bumthang and Wamrong. Should we wait for disaster to happen?” a Khaling resident said. Most structures are old and some are vulnerable to fire. None of the houses are with smoke alarms or have their electrical wirings inspected.

Town Tshogpa, Karma Phuntsho said some structures are as old as the town and vulnerable to fire. “The town needs fire preventative measures such as gas detectors, sprinkler system, and hydrant system which could help save life and property, before it is too late.”

Should there be a fire incident, the town will have to wait for a few hours before the fire engine arrives from Trashigang town, about 55 kilometres away from Khaling.  “Everything would be razed to the ground waiting for firefighting vehicles,” said Karma Phuntsho.

A resident, Karma Choden, said the old structures in the town make it more vulnerable. “We cannot predict disaster but prevention is needed,” she said. “Unlike in the other towns, remote towns do not get the same attention from disaster management bodies on awareness programme.” She added that authorities like Bhutan Power Corporation should inspect electrical wirings in the old structures to prevent disasters.

Today, old traditional house and makeshift huts operate as restaurants, general shops while some houses are used for offices. “There are more than 20 shopkeepers and around 30 residents. In case of a fire incident, everything could be destroyed,” said a businessman, Tashi.

A civil servant based in the small town said that safety measures are non- existent. “Some electric fittings are old as the house and are in bad state,” he said. “Should we wait for a disaster to start preparing?”

He also pointed out the need for escape routes, sprinklers and fire hydrant that could help save life and property in the town.

A resident said some structures in the town are more 30 years old and vulnerable to any disasters. “Residents are cautious about fire but we are seeing a lot of new travelers” she said. Residents, she said, are worried to the extent that even a small fire, smoke from Bukharies (wood fed stoves) or smell of something burning alerts the residents.

One resident said a fire truck should be stationed in Wamrong to help both the towns.

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