Every monsoon season, the residents of Trashiyangtse, a picturesque town nestled along the banks of two streams, live in constant fear of flooding. Despite the recurring threat, the absence of permanent flood prevention measures has left them feeling vulnerable and burdened by the looming danger.
In September of this year, the situation took a dire turn when heavy rainfall at the source of one of the streams caused it to swell and overflow, depositing mud and wreaking havoc on the town. The incident disrupted the town’s water supply and served as a stark reminder of the need for immediate action.
Jigme Seldon, a concerned resident, spoke of the fear that plagues the town during the monsoon season. “We continue to live in fear throughout the monsoon season as the stream swells even on a sunny day,” said Seldon. “Recent floods were stronger than floods that occurred 15 years ago.”
Despite raising concerns about flood risk reduction in meetings, residents have seen no substantial progress towards flood mitigation in their town. Chengamo, another resident, emphasized the need for a permanent solution, urging authorities to prioritize addressing this critical issue.
Shopkeepers in the area echoed these concerns, pointing out that floods have remained the biggest challenge in the dzongkhag. They recalled that there had been no significant floods caused by the Bayzam stream since the first incident in 2009. However, they stressed the importance of timely information to protect lives and properties. A shopkeeper lamented, “If we do not get information on time, our lives will be lost to floods. A retaining wall was built to protect us, but we cannot trust the wall.”
The fear of flooding is a constant shadow over the town, especially for those living close to the streams. Pelden Mo, whose house is situated next to one of the streams, expressed her anxiety. “I haven’t been able to sleep well for the past few days since it was raining,” she said. “I do not know when the floods will enter the settlement and sweep away houses.”
The weakness of embankment walls along the river is another cause for concern. Though these walls were constructed to control erosion in some areas, they lack the strength to withstand mega-floods. Sonam Wangmo, a resident, warned, “If a mega-flood, like the one that occurred a month ago, happens again, the embankment is going to give way to floodwaters.”
Residents are growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of concrete measures taken by the authorities. They are calling for urgent action to safeguard their homes and lives from the looming flood threat.
The Serkang stream, in particular, poses an unpredictable threat, often swelling unpredictably on auspicious days. Residents of Choeten Kora town have been living in fear for decades, forced to evacuate whenever the stream swells, even in the dead of night.
A civil servant acknowledged the growing frequency of flash floods in Trashiyangtse and emphasized the need to prepare communities for such disasters. He suggested the installation of a siren system near the stream’s source as a crucial step in alerting residents and saving lives from natural disasters.
Residents of Choeten Kora town made a plea for such a system, but unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears. They cannot afford to wait for a disaster to strike before action is taken.
In response to the growing concerns, Dzongkhag Planning Officer Tshering Dorji stated that the dzongkhag has taken various measures to mitigate floods, including the construction of flood protection walls and riverbank dredging. He also mentioned collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations to assess flood potential and associated risks.
“We submitted a proposal for the installation of a flood alert system along with the protection wall to FAO as a package, to ensure the safety of residents during emergencies,” said Dorji.
As Trashiyangtse faces a recurring threat of flooding that puts lives and properties in jeopardy, the residents continue to hope for urgent and effective measures to safeguard their town. The time for action is now, before another calamity strikes this beautiful region.