Residential and forest fires are among the most common fire incidents reported in the country. The onset of dry season and increasing use of heating appliances makes the country more combustible.
We have long been familiar with fire hazards. Poor investigation has always compelled us to assume short circuit as the cause of fire that has engulfed monasteries, fortresses, warehouses, homes, and forests. Yet, we see little being done to prevent these hazards.
That eight of the 52 fire engines in five dzongkhags are off road for want of repair today is disturbing. So used to we have become to donor handouts that we appear to have become complacent in even planning their maintenance. Such dependence is frightening, especially when we are aware about the risks to fire hazards, at least for the capital.
In 2015, faulty electrical system was responsible for 19 fire incidents in Thimphu city, which is almost one every month. Last year, the frequency doubled with two fire incidents reported each month. It is sad that sources of fire for 74 cases reported last year were unknown. A host of reasons were cited as the cause of fire along with a list of complaints on why preventing fire hazards is problematic for authorities.
We appear to get lost in the complaints that the issue of accountability becomes a non-issue. Often, we don’t see much being done about these issues. Five years after the fire razed the Wangdue Dzong, people are yet to know how the fire started. As the dzong gets rebuilt to its former glory, it reminds the country of how vulnerable our fortresses and monasteries, the country’s symbol of culture are to disasters, many of which are preventable. In most instances, fire incidents remain a spectacle only to be caught to feed the social media.
In towns like Thimphu, authorities lament building rules being flouted and lack of fire escapes and hydrants in infrastructures that mushroom everyday. Standards set by the standards bureau do not appear to be binding on anyone but itself and the country is left to live with weak implementation of rules and grand policies that usually remain on paper.
There is no one to blame, which is why we see no accountability. Making the city and the country safe requires collective effort. Our policy makers need to prioritise and invest in safety and address issues that hinder agencies from implementing their mandate. We must build capacity in repair and maintenance of vehicles that are meant to safeguard lives and national properties. The fleet of agriculture machinery, the ambulances, garbage trucks and fire engines that the country has received from its development partners so that public service delivery is enhanced, need to be maintained. If we are unable to do so, we have not done well.
Thimphu‘s thromde committee has met to assess disaster risks to the capital. It is hoped that such effory will go nationwide to map the kinds of disasters the country is vulnerable to.
Lets not add complaints and complacency in governance to the list.