Lhuntse beckons the Bhutanese spirit

While we wait to see and know the complete picture of the flash flood of July 20, that has cost several lives, it also provides us the opportunity for self –reflection. It was a natural disaster and the highly technologically advanced civilization has yet to come up with an innovation that can tame Mother Nature. When furious, she can be as wrathful as Poseidon.

However, when ever disaster strikes, the questions asked are why and how. This is followed by a sturdier one, could it have been prevented?

Flash floods are neither new to Bhutan, nor to Lhuntse.  A flash flood on June 13, 2018 washed away a labour camp in Meadtsho Gewog, Lhuentse. The camp belonged to the Diamond Construction Company, which was involved in the blacktopping of the Gewog Centre (GC) road. It struck around six in the evening due to heavy rains and was the second time Lhuentse was hit by flashfloods in a span of two years. The first one occurred in Shawa, Gangzur in 2017.

Following this, a flood hazard assessment for Lhuntse Dzongkhag was undertaken in 2019, by the department of engineering services, which was under the then Ministry of Works and Human Settlement. This indicates that efforts or preventive measures were undertaken.

Bhutan has a history of loss of life and damage to property due to flooding and floods. Rivers are generally characterized by steep slopes in the upper catchment, which are subject to intense seasonal rainfall and high rates of erosion. As the rivers flow towards the southern foothills, the transition from mountainous areas to flat plains typically occurs and is accompanied by extensive flooding. On the other hand, owing to Climate Change, the rainfall pattern has become erratic with prolonged drought period followed by unusually high precipitation which causes flash floods. 

Every life is precious. And when it is the lives of people who left their beloved ones behind and went to one of the most remote corners of the country at the call of the nation, it becomes even more priceless.

A common trait of all human beings is to point fingers at others, calling for accountability. We are also good at it. But is there anyone we can point a finger at in this particular case? Can we say that those we lost should not have had their camps in the areas affected or that DGPCL should not have started the hydropower project? 

Such times are also a test of our solidarity and resilience. And it was heartening to see many Bhutanese today, from all walks of life in different districts on the auspicious occasion of the Buddha’s First Sermon, pray for the ones who lost their lives.

We should definitely learn from such tragedies to ensure that lives are not lost. But at this juncture, it is time for all Bhutanese to come under one umbrella and offer our prayers to those that have departed and to assist their near and dear ones in all ways we can. At such times, the Bhutanese spirit needs to come out.