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Mitigating Disasters: Whose Job is it Anyway?

The Weekly Editorial

The recent trail of destruction wreaked by the untimely rains has left a flood of afterthoughts, as thousands of farmers across the country were caught off-guard by this freak natural calamity.

Reports of hundreds of acres of paddy fields being inundated across the country reveals the vulnerability of our farmers to such freak weather conditions which, according to climate experts, are the visible aftermaths of global climate change that is gradually taking the world by storm.

While natural disasters are unpredictable, some disasters like rainfall and freak weathers can be monitored, and to a large extent, averted if timely interventions are sought.

The advancement of technology and AI has reached to such an extent today that we are able to get myriads of data, especially pertaining to weather reports. Today, detecting potential storms and anomalous weather patterns are no longer rocket-science as we have ample satellite data that provides us real-time feeds.

However, the biggest hurdle, if the latest developments are any indication, is that our information dissemination is handicapped as it has been made evident by the recent flak that agencies seem to be working in silos, as was pointed out by His Majesty the King in His Address to the nation on National Day last year.

While agencies like the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) and the National Center for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) have enough data to warn us of possible looming disasters, it was evident that the information was not passed on to the targeted groups, here farmers, on a timely manner.

The recent catastrophe which was triggered by similar natural disturbances could have been largely averted had there been a proper mechanism whereby our farmers were alerted of the impending doom. And, while NCHM had done their part by issuing an advisory, it was a case of too little too late as the ominous dark clouds had already burst to the seams by then.

Agencies like the DDM and NCHM, instead of trying to wash their hands clean off the blame, should accept that there are major flaws in how we coordinate and share critical information among government agencies.

NCHM, or those who have crucial roles like local governments agencies, should own up to their flaws and redeem themselves so that similar catastrophes are averted in the future. The idea of Bhutan not having enough climate data or latest weather reports and developments sounds so archaic given the amount of digitalization and sophistication the country has gone through over the years.

These recent developments should ring alarm bells for country’s focal agencies, who are responsible for mitigating disasters and averting them, that it is time we dust and prepare ourselves so that we do not falter the next time around.

It is also a caution for the agriculture ministry and the Local Governments that we can fare better than to leave our farmers to fend for themselves.

Bhutan is making massive leaps and bounds in technological advancements, and with the introduction of 5G services and our transition to a cashless economy, we have better tools at our disposal which should play to our advantage, and not be overwhelmed by it.       

At this age of technological advancements, giving timely weather advisories should no longer be a possibility but the norm.

But first we must accept our fallacies and plug it once and for all so that we are better-prepared the next time such calamities strike us, instead of getting ourselves entangled in this apathetic blame-game cycle.

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