How prepared are we?


Experts from the Department of Geology and Mines have confirmed that a major seismic activity measuring not less than eight on the Richter scale is long overdue in Bhutan.
In fact, it has been 300 years since the last major earthquake occurred in Bhutan, and though seismic activity cannot be predicted exactly, it’s high time we look into the issue of disaster preparedness.
Looking back, the country was least prepared when an earthquake measuring six plus on the Richter scale rocked eastern Bhutan in 2009. There were high levels of chaos and panic as those affected sought to find a degree of security and sanity in a situation that devastated the nation.
One wonders if the feelings of utter helplessness and fatalism could have been prevented if the country had been better prepared for such a disaster.
Now in the event of earthquakes in the South-east Asian region such as Japan, Myanmar, Pakistan and Nepal making the headlines, we are again faced with the hard-hitting question: How prepared is Bhutan?
In terms of infrastructure, it is obvious we aren’t. In fact, earthquake-resistant buildings and retrofitting are almost completely new concepts for Bhutanese builders.
Even if people are aware of these, it is questionable if they are willing to invest time and money in making buildings safer because of the relatively high costs and intensive labor involved. Further, we don’t have national guidelines in place to make earthquake resistant infrastructure mandatory which itself could prove a major milestone if enforced.
Bhutan is also short of skills and expertise to make this major leap from building ordinary buildings to retrofitting and this could require some ground work on the part of the authorities concerned to build a pool of knowledge and experts who could facilitate the process.
Apart from the physical aspect of disaster preparedness, it would also be in our best interest to be mentally and emotionally prepared for a major earthquake.
It is well known that victims of natural disasters go through severe emotional trauma and inculcating in them a sense of expectancy at the same time imparting knowledge on how to deal with such a natural calamity if it occurs would definitely not go waste on the part of the authorities.
Ask anybody in Bhutan what he or she would do in case of an earthquake, and besides the fundamental know-how of “running away” or “ducking under”, they are quite ignorant of the aspects of surviving a disaster on a large scale.
We find very little advocacy and awareness programs for disaster-preparedness apart from a few ads on television.
People need to be better prepared – mentally, emotionally and physically because disaster can strike anytime although it is not guaranteed.
In this context, the government and other relevant agencies including the media can do a lot to educate people, spread awareness, and create a safer and more resilient environment for people in the wake of a major seismic activity.
We can’t just sit on our backs and hope that things will work out. Pro-active measures need to be seriously worked out so that we are not caught off guard and left with remnants of regret and destruction, just because we failed to do the right thing at the right time.