It is always said that we learn valuable lessons from natural disasters. In the aftermath of a disaster, that is the only positive thing we can look forward to.
The massive Nepal earthquake on Saturday, where more than 4,000 people were killed, as of last night, is a timely, even if chilling, reminder to learn from disasters. The focus at the moment is all on relief and rescue measures. The post mortem will start coming when it is time to rebuild, which now looks difficult and will take a long time. Like Nepal, Bhutan is located on the same fault line or, in layman’s term, in the same seismic danger zone.
Bhutan is not new to earthquakes. We have experienced it many times in the past. Memories are still fresh from the last two in 2011 and 2009. What lessons have we learnt from our own and the Saturday ‘quake in Nepal? We may be convinced that we are not safe. But is it any safer if we aren’t doing anything despite knowing we’re not safe.
The pressure beneath is building and there is no time for complacency. But we said the same thing after the 2009 earthquake, whose epicentre was in Narang, Mongar. And after the 2011 quake that hit southwest Bhutan worst.
We have expressed concerns of our structures, of our preparedness, and our plans and strategies. With time, we could probably have forgotten it all. We were fortunate to escape without any damage to property or loss of life this time. But relying on luck, especially knowing that we are not safe, is not wise.
This is a good time to focus our attention on preparedness again. In the event a big earthquake hits us, we will be in the same predicament as our neighbour. Destruction will be immense and similar, with rural Bhutan bearing the brunt. Flying in assistance would be a problem because of infrastructure. Access will be a challenge, given our remoteness.
In the face of all this, it is only wise to be prepared. Earthquakes don’t kill people. It is mostly collapsing buildings that kill. An elderly citizen watching the tragedy in Nepal on television was quick to point out that it was mostly the old structures that had collapsed. It will be the same here. The only difference is we are not as congested.
It was not until recently that building rules were strictly implemented. Even that is only in the urban areas. Outside our thromdes, we have exceptions, for instance, not having to use iron bars to strengthen pillars and poles. Earthquakes will not recognise urban buildings from rural, unfortunately.
There is a lot to learn from the Nepal experience. Our volunteers, who are now working in the hardest hit areas in Nepal, will come back with valuable experience. We shouldn’t let it die with a few stories. It is a good opportunity to work for preparedness to ensure minimum damage and casualty.