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Tashigang

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.