There has recently been a lot of reports about impending earthquake in the Himalayas.

News spread after scientists and researchers, including those from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bengaluru, India forewarned about the possibility of an earthquake of 8.5 or more in the near future.

In the country, various preparedness activities are underway. This includes formation of a National Disaster Response Coordination Committee (NDRCC).

Today, 15 dzongkhags and two thromdes have developed the disaster contingency plans. The remaining dzongkhags and thromdes are expected to have their plans ready by next year.

Department of Disaster Management’s (DDM) deputy chief programme officer, Sonam Deki, said the plans were inclusive, which would be incorporated in the annual and five-year plans for implementation.

“However, we cannot say that we are fully prepared. Many activities are still underway and we have a lot to do,” Sonam Deki said.

In case of disaster, Instant Command Systems would be activated by the gewog, drungkhag, thromde or the dzongkhag. Following the activation of the system, rapid assessment team, medical and shelter relief team, and search and rescue team would be mobilised.

Sonam Deki said that rapid assessment team would report causalities and damages. This will be followed by deployment of search and rescue and medical and shelter teams. “Instant commander for the dzongkhag is the dzongdag. At the national level, NDRCC will be at the national emergency operation centre. Districts will inform the centre of the causalities.”

Under NDRCC, Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) is identified as the search and rescue team; health ministry for medical assistance; and agriculture ministry for food; BPC for electricity; tele-communication operators for communications.

A separate desk is also identified for international assistance.

Sonam Deki said that to avoid communication jams during a disaster, 500 contact numbers were identified. “We are distributing handsets to some of the agencies so that if the mobile networks are down we will be able to communicate. We are also working with the disaster communication and helpline unit to install repeater station across the country so that the handsets can work.”

The department has also distributed satellite phones to 20 dzongkhags and the thromdes.

With financial support from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Bhutan Telecom Limited (BTL) will setup a business continuity plan this year at Bumthang.

Manager at BTL in Bumthang, Sangay Duba, said there were chances of the whole communications system breaking down if disaster occurred. “When this happens, the business continuity plan here in Bumthang would serve as the standby and take over.”

Today, the agriculture ministry is identified as the lead agency in the logistics desk. A national food security governing board was also set up.

DDM’s chief programme officer, Pema Singye, said that the board discussed food reserve, infrastructure development, food preservation, and stock up-scaling. “In the 14 warehouses hereafter 8,000MT of rice, 330MT of pulses, 825MT of edible oil would be stored. This food would be able to sustain the population for three months. It is expected that by three months, things will normalise.”

Although search and rescue training have been conducted in the country today, only few simulation exercises were conducted to test the plans.

Sonam Deki said the country still lacked national search and rescue training institute to train and provide refresher’s course. Basic search and rescue equipment sets have been distributed in all thromdes and the dzongkhags.

Pema Singye said that a four-day training on development of sector disaster management contingency plan was being conducted. Representatives from RBP, FabLab, and various sectors are attending the training.

On the community or individual level, Sonam Deki said that awareness programmes at schools and through televisions were conducted. Basic disaster management training are also provided in the dratshangs and nunneries, particularly on fire hazards.

Training on safe construction practices were conducted in all dzongkhags.

In terms of glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF), Sonam Deki said that early warning system in Punakah-Wangdue valley, Chamkhar Chhu were in place.

“In terms of GLOF, we have reached the community level. We have identified the vulnerable community,, evacuation sites and trained them in terms of preparedness activities.”

The sensors along the Chamkharchhu were installed between 2015-2016 with funding support form JICA.

Technician at the Department of Hydro Met Services, Bumthang, Dungchu Wangdi, said that the alarm went off once in 2016 when the water level exceeded the alert and alarm level. “The sensors did help in warning and preparing the people to escape to a safer area.”

Phurpa Lhamo