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.