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In the wake of nature’s wrath

It is a busy week in the capital city. There are many fora and conferences scheduled for the week. We kicked off a big seminar where catering alone cost millions. Life seems busy and normal.

Beyond Thimphu, in central and east Bhutan, it is a busier week.

Road workers, officials and passengers stranded are clearing roads, some dzongkhags and gewogs are cut off and farmers are counting the damages to their maize fields, their staple food. Some lost their entire crop.

Life has not come to a standstill, but the wrath of the monsoon is felt in the east this year. As of yesterday, landslides, falling boulders and flash floods have blocked 23 primary national highways. Mongar cannot be accessed from Trashigang or from Nganglam. People are reeling from the unexpected heavy rainfall. Even the air transport is affected although it is restricted to only a handful.

The gewog connectivity road and farm roads cannot withstand one monsoon. The road quality must have been good. We can only blame the monsoon.

Fortunately, we have not experienced any casualties, soaring food prices, fuel depots running dry or shortage of essentials. If we look around in the region, there are many in a sorry state. Millions of people are displaced in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Neighbouring Assam is the worst affected.

About 4.3 million people in Assam have been affected by flooding, while 83,000 have been forced to seek shelter in relief camps on higher ground. The same monsoon rains over the past week have left many dead in Nepal and Bangladesh, and submerged vast areas of north-east India.

The monsoon has just started. We can only feel the vulnerability of being at the mercy of nature, a force that is beyond our control. Is there anything that we can do?

We cannot stop the monsoon, even if we seek divine intervention. What we can do is be cautious. The roadblocks or places getting cut off in the east may not get the attention of both media and the government, but they should not be neglected. It is not visible. It is happening beyond Thimphu.

Machinery and men are deployed to ensure that connectivity is not affected for long. Weather pattern is changing every year for many reasons. Some blame it on global warming. Whatever the reason, we have to be better prepared. As a landlocked country and situated in a fragile topography, we are more vulnerable to natural disasters even if it is not our making.

What contingency plans do we have? How well are we prepared besides sending some heavy earth moving machines to clear a block? Freak weather conditions are going to stay if not worsen every year. The urgent question is: how well prepared are we?

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