Don’t wait for another disaster!

On June 20, the country was assailed with the news of Thorthormi Lake possibly threatening to burst into a GLOF, a replica of the 1994 Luggye Tsho disaster. Earlier this week, two major fires broke out – one in Changzamtog in Thimphu and the other in Pasakha, Chukha. This time around, we were lucky. No lives were lost in these events but the danger hangs tangible in the air with no sure disaster mitigation measures in place.

These disasters are telling of changing times. Climate change is real. It is an issue. And it needs to be addressed. Our country is a tiny one nestled in the Himalayas but global warming, melting of glaciers, drying up of water sources, torrential or no rains and freak wind storms and floods are becoming rampant in Bhutan. Try as these signs are ignored, we cannot deny the inevitable fact that we are affected too.

What do we do? That is the question of the day. Experts have pointed out that nothing much can be done about an impending GLOF except install better early warning systems in place so that people are prepared. We are reminded of the destruction that the GLOF in 1994 caused. And the earthquake which shook eastern Bhutan and people’s lives in 2009.

Surely we cannot prevent natural calamities but we can do something to mitigate the effects? Right now, ask people what they need to do in the event of an earthquake and the answers will be ambiguous. People do not know anything except for the fact that they have been given some vague advice on taking shelter below beds and furniture. But these recommendations are not based on scientific findings and may do more harm than good.

People need to have plans. Plan A. Plan B. Maybe even a Plan C in case of a natural or man-made disaster. We could do with more advocacy. And maybe we do need to increasingly borrow modern technology to ensure minimum damage and loss to lives.

For instance, builders do not know about retrofitting and even if they do, it could be too expensive to be implemented as of now. But things need to change slowly. We should be moving toward the direction soon enough. The problem is instead of progressing we seem to be regressing in this area.

The parliament did not pass a disaster contingency fund this year. And we have already seen a number of accidents take place plus one of epic proportions literally about to burst.

We are also reminded of that fateful night when a group of children lost their lives in the Tsimasham tragedy. While we are filled with regret over what could have been, we can learn a lesson from the incident and direct resources and technology to divert any such tragedies in the future.

What we need right now is pro-active decision making from policy makers and implementing agencies to push disaster management strategies through. We also need to update our technology and be able to say that we can actually do something when a disaster strikes.

This sounds like simplifying matters but we require confidence in the authorities mandated to tackle such situations. And giving excuses is not an option. Especially when precious lives are at stake.

Pic courtesy: (google)