Drowning: a public health issue in Punakha

Eight cases of drowning have been recorded by the Punakha police

Looks can be deceiving

The popular rivers of Phochhu and Mochhu in Punakha, which meander merrily through the sides of the majestic Punakha Dzong and join to form the Punatshangchhu, can be a befitting example of this adage.

While the rivers may appear serene and gentle to outside spectators, only local residents know how dangerous the rivers could be.

In a tragic incident on March 25, a young monk from Punakha Dratshang died by drowning in Phochhu. The deceased had gone under the Phochhu suspension bridge with his friends during tea break to wash his head when the fatal incident occurred. The body of the deceased was recovered after few hours and handed over to his parents.

The two police stations of Wangduephodrang and Punakha have recorded a total of eleven drowning cases from 2017 till date. Punakha police recorded eight cases and Wangduephodrang police had three cases.

According to available records, men are particularly at risk of drowning compared to women.

The figures compiled of the two districts show seven male drowning cases in Punakha and three male drowning cases in Wangduephodrang. Meanwhile, only one female drowning case was reported in Punakha and zero in Wangduephodrang.

The higher drowning rates in men are reportedly due to increased exposure to water and risky behaviors, such as swimming alone.

Of the eight drowning cases, police and rescue teams in Punakha have recovered six bodies, while the bodies of a woman and a man who drowned in 2020 have not been recovered till date.

In Wangduephodrang, of the three cases, two bodies have been recovered and one body is yet to be found. Two drowning cases have been reported in Punatshangchu and the third one in Ridachhu.

In Punakha, five people were drowned in Phochhu and three in Mochhu.

According to the Punakha police, during MPC in every gewog, residents are sensitized not to go or stay near the river banks alone, especially during the monsoon. During crime awareness in schools, students are also informed not to visit the river banks.

Some residents of Punakha, who Business Bhutan interviewed, say that the rivers are dangerous and effective policies and legislation are important to prevent drowning.

Namgay Lhamo, a resident of Punakha and mother of two school-going children, said both the rivers are dangerous and parents should not let their children go near the rivers.

“Relevant authorities should advocate about the risks and danger near the rivers as not all parents can monitor their children,” she said.

Another resident said due to hot weather during the summer, children and adults go swimming without any safety equipment.

“Without knowing the danger, especially children swim along the river banks, which is dangerous and risk of being washed away,” he said.

“In the past, there have been some incidents where both children and adults have been washed away,” he added.

Chencho Dema from Punakha