Syndicate content

relief

First Month on the Job in Bhutan: Trial by Earthquake

Mark LaPrairie's picture

As the newly appointed (and first) World Bank Representative to Bhutan, my first month on the job has been challenging. A magnitude 6.3 earthquake with an epicenter in eastern Bhutan struck on September 21. There were 12 fatalities, including a mother breast-feeding her infant daughter by the hearth in their stone-walled kitchen. While there was fortunately relatively little loss of life, there was considerable damage to houses, schools, health clinics, temples, religious monuments and roads. In Bhutan's mountainous terrain, many affected villages are several hours walk away, so the provision of relief supplies and carrying out reconstruction is difficult.

In collaboration with the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Bhutan, Claire Van der Vaeren, who took up her assignment in Bhutan in June, the World Bank fielded a team of disaster experts. Claire and I accompanied the team of six (four from the UN, two from the Bank) to the eastern districts ("dzongkhags") of Mongar and Tashigang. The drive from Thimphu -- Bhutan's capital city of 100,000 people -- to the affected villages in Mongar takes two days.

First Month on the Job in Bhutan: Trial by Fire

Mark LaPrairie's picture

After our rest at the Home Minister, Lyonpo Minjur’s rural ancestral home, the team embarked on the long journey back to Thimphu the next day -- only a couple hundred miles as the crow flies (if even that), yet a two day adventure across high mountain passes and along narrow endlessly winding roads with precipitous drops below. We reached the Swiss Guest House in Bumthang around 7pm, looking forward to hot showers and a meal.

Upon pulling up to the lodge, I received a call on my mobile from my friend Tashi, who was recently appointed by His Majesty to serve on the National Council (senate). Tashi was in eastern Bhutan to support earthquake relief efforts on the part of the National Council. Tashi called to inform me that, Wamrong, the town I lived in 21 years ago when I first came to Bhutan as a volunteer teacher, had mostly burned to the ground that afternoon.