Inaugural Address by H.E Prime Minster for the 12th Meeting of the Regional Consultative Committee (RCC) on Disaster Management

[Organized Jointly by the Department of Disaster Management, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, Royal Government of Bhutan; Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre, Bangkok; and the German Government through GiZ]

Dates: June 16-18, 2015

Venue: Convention Centre

Distinguished delegates from RCC countries,

Development partners,

Representatives of the international community,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

May I request you all to stand and observe a Minute of Silence in memory of all those who died, those who were injured, and those still suffering from the recent earthquake and aftershocks in Nepal and other parts of the region. Let us offer them our deepest condolences, our warmest wishes, and our heartfelt prayers.

Silence…

Having visited Nepal two days after the first major earthquake I am more conscious than ever of the magnitude and gravity of the impact of natural disasters. The Nepal tragedy was also a powerful reminder that disaster preparedness, management, and response has to be prioritised by all of us, not as an emergency measure, but as a part of long-term development planning, both at the national and decentralised levels.

Therefore, it is with a sense of earnestness that I welcome you all to Bhutan for this critical meeting. The 12th RCC consultations must seek to ensure risk-sensitive development, thereby contributing to the establishment of a more resilient development agenda for the region and beyond. Development planning and implementation at all levels must integrate disaster and climate change risks.

Ladies and Gentlemen

As we all know, Bhutan has its own vulnerabilities, being prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, glacial lake outburst floods, landslides, flash floods, fires, and windstorms. Being highly dependent on climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture and hydropower makes us that much more vulnerable to the impact of climate change. And, even as the progress in science helps us monitor risks and threats to an extent, the unpredictability of mother nature leaves us at the mercy of unknown adversities.

We have suffered our own share of natural disasters, even in the recent past – the Cyclone Aila precipitated floods in 2009, earthquakes in 2009 and 2011, the fires in Chamkhar town in 2011 and 2012, and a severe windstorm in 2013. While our losses may not seem significant compared with the losses suffered elsewhere around the world, let us remember that each life lost is one too many and damage to property as well as the natural environment sets us back in time and resources.

However, I am happy to share that Bhutan has made good progress in putting in place a framework to provide the foundation of building community resilience. The National Disaster Risk Management Framework endorsed by the Royal Government in 2006 and the Disaster Management Act of Bhutan passed in 2013 reinforce the collective nature of disaster risk management and outline a holistic approach to dealing with disasters.

The Disaster Management Act strengthens the country’s institutional capacity for disaster management, mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction, and calls for integrated and coordinated disaster management which focuses on community participation, through the establishment of various institutions at the national and district levels to ensure a decentralized disaster management system in the country.

On the practical side, the Bhutan Government has also implemented several activities and programs on the ground in accordance with the Hyogo Framework for Action. Work such as mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction into the national planning sector, implementation of the community based disaster risk management programs, and building response capacities in the districts are just some of the examples of the Government’s commitment to reducing the impacts of disasters on society as a whole.

Even as the Department of Disaster Management is being established and strengthened, we have established a high-level disaster response committee which is right now taking immediate steps to ensure our preparedness for all forms of disasters. This committee will be ready to coordinate all sectors, from technology-based communications to search and rescue and medical responses to domestic and foreign relief efforts to the rapid provision of financial and material resources.

I also note that this meeting will look at the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and focus on a practical on-the-ground implementation plan that can be adopted to align our existing and future efforts to the new priority areas in order to achieve the targets set forth in the framework.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Risk sensitive development is not a new concept for Bhutan. At a time when the GDP-focused growth has fostered a consumer culture that has nurtured human greed to an extent that we are rapidly consuming our planet, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo gave us the vision of Gross National Happiness. This profound concept emphasizes interdependence, not just among human communities but with all life forms. This means a finely balanced relationship with nature, thus preserving our own existence and nurturing a deep reverence for our natural environment.

GNH, therefore, gives us the inspiration as well as the mandate to find a long-term solution to all forms of risks that, we know, are caused mostly by imbalances in nature. I would like to urge all participants of this meeting to see how the principles and indicators of GNH, that guides our own development, may be used to ensure risk sensitive development for all.

Remember that GNH, the legacy of an enlightened leader, is not about the fleeting senses of happiness but the long-term contentment of the people. It is not a guarantee of happiness by the Government but a responsibility of the Government to create the conditions for people to achieve happiness. The protection of our people from all forms of disasters is an essence of this happiness.

Trashi Delek!

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