More than 60% of reconstruction works are complete, the rest are still in progress
The sustained rhythm of non-stop rain, which had started earlier that afternoon, could not have been a better lullaby for people to snuggle comfortably inside their warm blankets, had it not been the nightmare Bhutan woke up to the next day.
Rivers snaked with their hoods rising into a death dance and maddened down the hills.
Bridges collapsed, roads gobbled up, and houses snapped now like fragile twigs.
Crops were destroyed, leaving farmers mulling over what to do with the empty storage houses.
The spiritual high point of Bhutan, Gasa tsha Chhu, too was washed away.
An unprepared country lost 13 lives as it was hit by the tail end of the monstrous Cyclone Aila .
Major rivers like Wangchu, Punatsangchu, Kurichu, Mangdechu, Chamkarchu and Parochu doubled their flow rates.
Even Bhutan’s main source of revenue, hydropower projects, was forced to close down due to heavy debris like logs and mud clogging up the dams.
The worst bit was that the Meteorological Department had no clue of what was brewing in the Bay of Bengal, despite the fact that weather reports on all global television channels were reporting the colossal power of Aila.
May 25, 2010: Jigme Chogyal, along with his team from the Department of Disaster Management (DDM), lit butter lamps and conducted a Melam in remembrance of those who lost their lives a year ago. As they prayed another terrible cyclone, Laila, was crossing the Bay of Bengal.
Cyclone Aila had caused an unprecedented 76mm rainfall on May 25 and 26 May last year.
Government infrastructure worth Nu 544 mn, farm and feeder roads worth Nu 47 mn, agricultural property worth Nu 7.5 mn, bridges worth Nu 56 mn, drinking water supply and irrigation systems worth Nu 45 mn, livestock worth Nu 15 mn and private properties worth Nu 7 mn were ravaged.
Cost to the country: a whopping Nu 722 mn.
One year after the calamity, more than 60% of the reconstruction works were completed, said Jigme Chogyal, the assistant program officer at the DDM.
Talking to Business Bhutan the chief program officer, Karma Dema Tshering said they faced big challenges in implementing reconstruction.
“There were capacity constraints also,” she explained.
But funds came in from different sources.
India donated Nu 100 mn, Danida Nu 2.250mn, Thailand Nu 0.972 mn, Singapore Nu 1.410 mn, Kuwait Nu 165.375 mn, Turkey Nu 4.560 mn, Austria Nu 34.665mn, WHO Nu 5.522mn, UNICEF Nu 4.920mn, WFP Nu 0.842 mn and Royal Government of Bhutan Nu 200 mn.
However this fell short of Nu 201.484 mn against the total damage cost of Nu 722 mn.
The whole world woke up to the disaster and countries opened their purse strings. But it came in drips and bits.
Yet, this didn’t affect the restoration process.
The prime mover was His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who walked through disaster-struck villages displaying comforting people and showing what leadership meant.
Compensation grants on crops and livestock damages were all completed and various recovery and reconstruction activities in different dzongkhags have been completed.
Farmer Dorji from Bumthang still remembers that night when he lost all his crops during the flash flood along Chamkhar Chhu.
“I am happy that the government has been there to help those affected, otherwise I would have not been able to recover what I had lost,” he said.
Implementation of prioritized activities based on work plans are still in the process, including major works like the construction of five bailey bridges in Reotala in Trongsa, Burichu in Tsirang, Amrimmo in Punakha, Shaba in Paro and Goling in Zhemgang.
There are also VTI’s to be reconstructed in Rangung, Chumey and Khuruthang.
Aila did leave lessons.Jigme Chogyal said that on May 25 last year, even though there was an unprecedented rainfall, they had had no idea of the things to come!
According to the DDM, the information flow wasn’t standard and there were problems in passing on the information from one place to the other at the time of the flood.
The capacities to deal with these kind of disasters weren’t enough, he said, and public awareness wasn’t there and the government lacked poor financial management, post-disaster management and relief capacity procedures.
“Since there were no well established emergency operation centers (EOCs), coordination was a major hurdle,” said Jigme Chogyal.
He also said that the response, early warning and rehabilitation systems were not at all coherent.
“During emergency times, dzongkhags were left responding to queries of different agencies and departments. Hence, it was necessary to follow a standard procedure for any information flow and response mechanism,” he added.
Therefore, the DDM is now getting mechanisms and standard procedures in place, along with coordination mechanisms, emergency operation centre and regional linkages for smooth information flow.
They will monitor weather conditions, put in place an early warning system, improve search and rescue operational procedures, improve communication and develop rapid assessment to improve capacities.
There will be public awareness through media partnerships. “During the time of the flood, people weren’t moving to higher grounds rather they were out fishing,” said Jigme Chogyal.
For efficient finance management, flash appeals for donations will be developed; resource mobilization strategy and emergency funds will be in place. There will also be damage assessment modalities, guidelines and contingency planning for post-disaster assessment.
“Everything is going well, but we should not forget that we have much more to do,” said Karma Dema Tshering.