We are familiar with the above cliché but not many live by it. The havoc caused by the incessant rains across the country from July 22 and lasting a few days was a living example for all citizens to witness. Flash floods and landslides are common occurrences during the monsoon and the monsoon is an annual event that lasts for several months. As inhabitants of the region we know our country to be fragile and extremely vulnerable to natural calamities. We are at the mercy of the elements during natural calamities and all we can do is blame the gods for their wrath and feel sorry for ourselves.
Year after year, the melodrama of the monsoon woe and fury is played out and usually the results are catastrophic and tragic. Homes are destroyed, roads disrupted, lives shattered and families left bereaved. The annual monsoon event comes upon us unaware and takes us by surprise. We curse, fret, yell and long for the spell to end. Experience, they say is a great teacher but by the likes of it, we haven’t learnt anything from it. It’s high time we did something for good.
There is a Bhutanese saying, ‘conduct rituals before the affliction of a disease and build drains before the coming of water.’ This wisdom is often quoted in talks but hardly practiced. To be specific, I would simply like to stick to the annual river Amochhu, commonly called Toorsa, episode in Phuentsholing. In the last few years that I have been domiciled in this town, I have noticed with gloom and despondency the rack and ruin wrought about by the Amochhu that flows on the periphery of Phuentsholing. The left bank of the Amochhu as it enters Phuentsholing along the alluvial flood plain is home to Bangay bazaar, numerous workshops, private offices, residences and the crematorium. It is this part of the flood plain that is subjected to repeated bashing every monsoon through the geological processes of erosion, corrosion and abrasion thereby endangering every patch of settlement on the left bank.
During the dry months, the Amochhu that is deprived of much of its water recedes away from the left bank and courses somewhat lazily into neighbouring India. This left bank of Amochhu which also forms a sort of alluvial plain is where all the merry-making takes place from November through to February. All kinds of debris and driftwood protruding out of the sand and lodged amongst river boulders are mute testimony of the last monsoon. The seasonal mandarin yards, shops and restaurants, bars and discotheques and hot stone bathing houses adorn the once water covered area. It is a hot spot for the locals as well as visitors to Phuentsholing and travellers passing through Phuentsholing. There is night long merry-making and revelry and by day there are picnickers and other day-time revelers in the area.
Surprisingly, there is no developmental work of any sort taking place during this dry season. The raging river is a distant memory. Authorities are relaxed and napping as everything seems fine under the sun. Apparently, carrying out precautionary measures for the next monsoon is never given a serious thought by the authorities. As a matter of fact, the dry season is the best time of the year to do just that. River training works, building embankments and dredging the river and diverting it away from settlements would be most appropriate during the dry season. Such work will be an expensive exercise but this needs to be done once and for all. Funds must be mobilised either internally or through donors to train the wild Amochhu so that its monsoon destruction is not a recurrent theme every year. With planned and proper river training of the Amochhu, many other developmental benefits can also be derived for a fast growing Phuentsholing town that has a dearth of space for developmental activities.
One thing is clear. We can either choose to train the river once and for all and derive huge economic benefits and live in peace or we can simply choose to ignore the Amochhu and let her run her course, unleash her fury and wreak havoc upon us forcing us to protect life and property from her wrath as an annual exercise. The authorities can give the Amochhu her due regard and respect by creating a proper and permanent path for her to flow serenely and to be at peace with herself for all times to come, while we too can then live in peace and co-exist with the Amochhu.
We hear strong rumours that the DHI will be taking up the project of land reclamation along the Amochhu. This is good news since the project will tame Amochhu once and for all and developmental activities will take place. It should then be right to say that the secret of getting ahead is getting started, so the sooner the better.