Coping with disaster

white water rescue

To the rescue

On 27 July 1996, six boys from Begana went on a picnic to Tango. They lost their way in the thick forests, and despite the best efforts of the rescue teams – soldiers had literally combed the jungles – the students could not be found. 12 harrowing days later, police stumbled upon four of the boys in the forests above Punakha. The mountains had, by then, claimed the lives of two boys.

That shocking incident led Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, who was the education secretary at that time, to formalize, improve and expand scouting in Bhutan. He believed that the Begana students would not have had to go through hell had they had some basic survival skills. And he looked to the scouting movement to provide these and other important skills to our students.

Thirteen years later, on 27 July 2009, eight boys from Tshimasham went on a picnic by the Wangchu. Only one made it back home.

The scouting movement has spread to every corner of Bhutan. And, its contributions to the education of our children – by giving them leadership, life and survival skills, and by teaching them teamwork and discipline – can never be measured.

But we need to do more. A lot more.

Our last poll asking if we are prepared to cope with disaster is telling. 97% of the participants think that we are not prepared at all. 3% feel that we are sufficiently prepared. And not one person thinks that we are very well prepared to cope with disasters.

All of us know that we’ll have many more disasters. Storms, floods, mud slides, fires and earthquakes: we expect them all. So let’s prepare for them, as best as we can. There’s no doubt that our government is working to improve the disaster preparedness and disaster management levels in the kingdom. And that our government is already developing the ability to carry out rescue during disasters.

Rescue operations are complicated and dangerous. And they require expertise. All the more reason to prepare immediately, in earnest.

Consider whitewater rescue, the type that would be deployed in all our fast flowing rivers. Whitewater rescue teams would need training in safety, kayaking, swimming, ropework, rescue gear and first aid. They would also require a thorough understanding of our rivers and river systems.

The good news is that such trainings are conducted regularly in many parts of the world. The Red Cross Society may be a good place to start. The other good news is that many of us – teachers, monks, soldiers, guides, politicians, officials, businesswomen – would be willing to volunteer to learn and to apply rescue skills. We should use these advantages.

We expect our children to return home after a picnic. But, if and when an innocent outing turns dangerous, we need to know that we are prepared to render all possible help. That is our duty.

This week’s poll is about Dzongkha, our national language.


Facebook Comments:


  1. I think the way to go is to bring in specialist trainers to train people on:
    Rock climbing
    Wilderness survival techniques
    Wilderness First Aid
    Etc. etc.

    The right people to be trained I think are the Tour Guides. They are appropriate because this should be a part of their professional training since they have to deal with their guests during trekking at high altitudes and away from other human habitats.

    I think it is also time we acquire an appropriate helicopter for emergency rescue work.

  2. Dear OL as I read through this article it gave me goosebumps…what a coincidence…the same dates and 13 years in between…

  3. Dear ol
    i am a bit confused la r u sure the boys were headed to tango la. i think it was phagoding la.

    guest rockclimbing is already there
    come to changgedhaphu aka kalabazar (where the massive rock face is) on sundays and u could have a nice time

    • The boys were from Begana. They went to Dhomendhey, which is several hours above Tango monastery. But, others have been lost in Phajodhing. I will visit the Vertical Club….and write about the good job they are doing.

  4. Dear OL,
    One guest suggested training the Tour Guides, what a funny thing; we are talking about saving bhutanese Children and NOT Tourists. They are totally secure, as Lobxang said last time (helicopter for a altitude sick tourist).

    Well scouting teaches them a lot but how practical, five of them were scout…

    Swimming Pool seems to me one of the brightest idea: Fun, Survival Skill and Avoiding river.

    Rest we count on government. Many bad things are happening now, god knows what went wrong and where!

  5. Wang Dungyel says

    One should learn and device remedy immediately after the failure and more so by the responsible authority. It is good and heartening that everybody now talks about the requirement of rescue team in Bhutan. Indeed it is required.
    I feel the best person to be trained is to our armed forces, including the police. It should be made as one of their compulsory training curriculum. Since, they are sufficiently placed throughout the country; acting on any rescue operation by them will be carried within the shortest time and it will be of immense help to the society. They have been guarding our country, maintaining our country’s law and order situation and no doubt they will take up even the rescue task with honour. I on behalf of all Bhutanese, would like to salute them for their magnanimity work and call on the initiative by our armed force generals. Thinking about other people at this juncture will be too complicated and should not think also. Till materialization of rescuers in Bhutan, the Government should take initiative and through different agencies should educate the public including schools and street kids on the thing that is risky to them. Let us hope for the best and pray that nothing happen till then.

    • Well said, Wang Dungyel. Every time there’s a disaster–forest fires, land slides, lost tourists, flash floods, houses on fire–rescue services are invariably provided by our armed forces. So, some appreciation and recognition for their hard work and valour is in order. And, occasionally, a little support to improve their capacity.

  6. While discussing these issues please do not mention tourists too often, the truth is that tourists pay thousands of USD for any helicopter rescue they request for and the RGOB does not pay anything, it just facilitates getting the choppers in.

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