The government says it is planning to procure search and rescue equipment

Meeting: A national disaster management plan is expected to be ready in the next five months, after which the government will start procuring rescue and search equipment, and train people to prepare for disasters in the country.

Speaking to media on the sidelines of the ongoing 12th regional consultative committee meeting on disaster management in Thimphu, home minister Damcho Dorji on Tuesday said a special committee had been formed on the cabinet’s directive to immediately frame the disaster management plan.

Lyonpo said the disaster management plan  would help put in place basic structures, equipment and system for a possible disaster in the country.

“In five to six months, we’re hoping the country will have a good national disaster plan in place so that we can buy the basic equipment and train people,” he said. “We need to keep aside a lot of money to buy equipment and train people,” he said.

Some of the equipment that Bhutan would need to procure includes excavators, satellite phones, walkie-talkies and helicopters.

Lyonpo Damcho Dorji added that Bhutan would need to set up earthquake measuring equipment and medical facilities as preparedness for disasters. “We know what the challenges are and the government is working towards that,” he said.

After the finalisation of the plan, the government will start coordinating with ministries and armed forces for disaster preparedness.

Bhutanese traditional structures, which are made up of stones and mud, lyonpo said,  are prone to disasters, particularly earthquakes. “Now, we’re looking at how to improve and strengthen the structures,” he said, adding that there was also a need to have a holistic legal framework and long-term plan for structures.

At present, he said, the disaster management department didn’t even have a proper office and was housed in a private building. “Earthquake is one area where the government is not really prepared,” he said.

Addressing the regional consultative committee, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said the meeting must seek to ensure risk-sensitive development, which contributed to the establishment of a more resilient development agenda for the region and beyond. “Development planning and implementation at all levels must integrate disaster and climate change risks,” he said.

Lyonchoen said Bhutan had its own vulnerabilities, being prone to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, glacial lake outburst floods and landslides. “Being highly dependent on climate sensitive sectors, such as agriculture and hydropower, makes us much more vulnerable to the impact of climate change.”

Lyonchoen said Bhutan has made good progress in putting in place a framework to provide the foundation of building community resilience. “Even as the disaster management department is being established and strengthened, we’ve established a high-level disaster response committee, which is right now taking immediate steps to ensure our preparedness for all forms of disasters.”

Having visited Nepal two days after the earthquake, the prime minister said he had become more conscious than ever of the magnitude and gravity of the impact of natural disasters.  The Nepal tragedy, he said, was a powerful reminder that disaster preparedness, management, and response has to be prioritised, not as an emergency measure, but as a part of long-term development planning.

However, home secretary, Dasho (Dr) Sonam Tenzin, believes that nature had been kind to Bhutan due to peace and tranquillity in the country. “The philosophical aspect of disasters in Bhutan is that what a man does and what nature reacts is interdependent,” he said. 

For instance, he said, the government supported monasteries, which pray for peace and tranquillity in the country every day.  He shared that when there was no discord, conflict and greed, disasters were rare.

“Whether you believe or not, it is a recorded and historical kind of a thing that, in a community, if you can garner collective merit of goodness, then there will be fewer disasters,” he said.  He said it was also important to understand the philosophy of disaster management.

Meanwhile, the chairman of Asian Disaster Preparedness Center’s Board of Trustees, Prof Krasae Channawongse, said the recent earthquake in Nepal was a clear indicator that the region needed to focus on the importance of reducing the impact of disasters, as it would enable countries to save more lives and minimise damages to important infrastructures.

The meeting will also discuss the important task of laying down an actionable roadmap for the implementation of the recently adopted agreement, the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, to achieve safer communities and sustainable development through disaster risk reduction.

By MB Subba