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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

with only half the workers recruited, taming bhutan’s most dangerous glacial lake becomes tougher

The set target for this year is to reduce the water level by 1.4 meters but it appears far fetched given that only half the number of manual workers have turned up this year

This year only 165 workers have been recruited to lower the water level at Lake Thorthormi, the biggest and the most dangerous glacial lake in Bhutan. This is just 50% of the number of workers required for the project.
The project manager, Dowchu Drukpa, said it will be difficult to achieve the target if only 165 workers will be working at the site. “This year the response is very poor and I don’t know why,” he said.
The target of the project is to reduce the water level by five meters (17,100,000 cubic meters).
The project manager said there could be several reasons why people didn’t come forward this year. “It could be the advertisement of the work, the local government elections as it coincided with our registration and also it could be because of the three deaths, but you never know,” he said.
The total requirement of the project is 340 workers. However, the project expects the highlanders to join the work as the cordyceps season was not good.
“We are hopeful that the highlanders will be forthcoming as the cordyceps season was not that good. We expect around 100 workers would turn up there,” he said.
He said that some of the workers had already worked for the last two years. In 2009, the workers achieved an 86 centimeter reduction while last year they achieved 1.37 meters (7,626,600 cubic meters of water released). This year the set target is 1.4meters.
After the three unfortunate deaths that occurred last year the project has initiated various programs. “Right after the incidents there were concerns not only from our side but also from the donors,” said Dowchu Drukpa.
He said the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) hired a medical consultancy to assess what happened and came up with a few recommendations.
The assessment report stated that some of the issues were not adequately addressed in terms of health aspects. The report recommended establishing transit medical camps.
“Moving to the site and coming back is the most crucial stage of the journey so two transit medical camps has now been set up at two different altitudes (one at 3,900meters and the other at around 4,100 meters),” he said.
If the workers are not able to move any further, they will be examined at the camp. The workers are also made to halt compulsorily at the medical camps for checkups.
Another recommendation by the team was to have a medical team at the site. “We had medical personnel before but they were fresh MBBS graduates who were not really experienced,” he said.
The project had already sent a few medical personnel for training on high altitude issues outside Bhutan.
Another recommendation was to have a detailed medical checkup of the workers before recruitment. A detailed system of medical checkup has now been instituted, following which of around 216 people checked, more than 30 failed the tests.
This year the work has been delayed by almost a month. It was supposed to start by mid July and end in September.
However, the work might be extended till mid-October depending on the weather.

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