Sitting on an earthquake belt in the Himalayas, Bhutan has preparation issues to work on.

The two-day consultation workshop on earthquake preparedness in Bhutan that ended yesterday at Paro was aimed at aligning the international and national emergency coordination structure and developing a contingency plan.

About 102 participants from 12 different agencies from Bhutan and 17 international development partners discussed the four phases of disaster risk management – preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation.

The participants also made recommendations to develop national contingency plan.

Department of Disaster Management’s (DDM) senior programme officer, Sonam Deki, said that there are about nine dzongkhag contingency plans. However, she added that there wasn’t a national contingency plan that could guide work with the international partners during disaster.

“We already have a structure for the national contingency plan and recommendations from here will be discussed further and made a part of the plan,” said Sonam Deki.

She said that on August 4, Bhutan implemented Incident Command System (ICS), which will have a team for immediate response in case of a disaster.

Resident coordinator with United Nations system’s operational activities for development in Bhutan, Gerald Daly, said that although Bhutan has well-functioning department for disasters, responding during major events could be difficult.

A large number of these 17 different partners will have different roles. Some will be engaged immediately, others will require longer time to respond, said Gerald Daly.

He said that in any disaster event, the host country and the development partners need to have good relationship. “United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarians Affairs (UNOCHA) will be available for any kind of disaster in the country and the development partners are prepared to roll up their sleeves should they be called on spot.”

Although a detailed and comprehensive seismic zonation of the country is not available currently, proximity lies in the most active seismic zone IV and V.

“It indicates that vast stretches of Bhutan fall either in zone IV or V, thereby making it highly vulnerable to earthquakes,” said Home Secretary Sonam Topgay. He added that further studies carried out by the Department of Geology and Mines point to the fact that Bhutan has not experienced a major earthquake for over three hundred years and that a major earthquake is imminent in Bhutan.

The consultation workshop was held by the UN in Bhutan in collaboration with DDM under home ministry. The workshop was facilitated by experts from the UNOCHA, UNICEF, WFP and WHO.

Phurpa Lhamo