The recent flashflood in Trashigang has been a reminder call to the nation and the authorities. It has only heightened the sense of urgency and attention that our so called disaster preparedness demands. The last time an earthquake of major proportions struck the country was in 2009. The whole country shook. People in all corners of the country especially the far-east felt the devastation. And while we could only count the numbers of casualties and figures of destruction, we were also left wondering if we could have been better prepared for a disaster this scale.
Now, years later, we are facing the same conundrum: if disaster were to strike: a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF), another huge earthquake, or a raging, uncontainable forest fire, how would we, the people of Bhutan, deal with it? Of course, the usual mock drills have always been carried out periodically. And a few awareness ads have appeared on broadcast. But apart from that, what are we doing? What are we really doing?
Say hypothetically, if we were to be struck by a massive flashflood tomorrow, what would be our response? And if an earthquake were to strike, would we just run under cover? What else do we know apart from that? And how are the authorities prepared?
No doubt there has been a series of workshops and discussions on this but where is the implementation? For instance, to retrofit our buildings: new ones as well as modifying the old ones would take a major chunk of budget and a lot of complicated and expensive technical knowhow, no wonder house owners are reluctant to switch to this mode of building. But in the first place, are they even aware of retrofitting?
Just lip service won’t do. We have a Department of Disaster Management. What exactly are they doing? We can’t wait around for a disaster to strike before we act. It is beyond our means to make amends when the damage has been done. To better the old adage, prevention is often the cure.
We must start now. GLOFs are in danger of flooding. Tectonic plates are shifting. There are hazards everywhere. We do not need to be paranoid but the least we can do is exercise a reasonable amount of caution and be prepared.
The authorities must come up with concrete, implementable strategies. It will decide a lot of important things for us: among others, the agencies’ efficiency, the safety of the people, and the security of a nation.
Complacency won’t do when disaster looms large. We must act. Now!