Monsoon; a season of road havoc

The recent flash flood along the Lhuentse-Dungkhar SNH partially damaged the Chudeygangchu bailey bridge ( Pic: Department of Roads)

2022 monsoon has resulted in 4 damages to bridges and 1 culvert across the country and the fiscal year 2021-22 saw a total of 649 road blockages due to landslides and floodings.



According to DANTAK data, there were 94 landslides on the Thimphu-Phuntsholing-Haa-Paro and Samdrup Jongkhar-Trashigang highways from 1 June to 15 August of 2021, while there were 396 landslides from 1 June to 15 August of 2022, which is four times as much as the previous year.

The vulnerability of the roads in the east is demonstrated by the fact that 351 of the 396 landslides occurred there.

Department of Roads (DoR) says that major damages from the current monsoon season include a bailey bridge that washed away on the Dewathang-Samrang Secondary National Highway (SNH), a Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC) bridge that was partially damaged on the Linzin-Tsenkari Primary National Highway (PNH), a culvert that was submerged at the Rinchending-Pasakha-Manitar PNH, a temporary bypass bridge washed away on Jyenkana-Woezergang SNH and one bailey bridge on Lhuentse-Dungkhar road.

DoR reported that there was a total of 649 cases of bottlenecks brought on by landslides and flooding during the fiscal year 2021–22.

DANTAK official said, Bhutan receives 1950 mm of rainfall on average each year, although 2022 witnessed a peak above average. Similar to this, the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology reported that June’s rainfall peaked above average.

“This year’s monsoon season has seen unprecedented roadblocks, landslides and floods across the country.”

As a landslide prevention precaution, slips are cleared, and quick bypasses are dug to restore traffic flow as soon as possible. Bailey bridge pieces are also stationed at various sites for emergency repair when it is practical. According to the DoR, equipment is also stationed at sites that frequently experience landslides, including Reotala, Boxcut, Khagochen, Dorjilung, Pangbang-Mathanguri, and many more.

They continued by saying that information on roadblocks on the highways is posted twice a day on a Facebook page that is regularly updated. Commuters are given access to this real-time information to alert them of obstructions and other threats on certain highway routes.

On the other hand, travellers have expressed their annoyance on social media regarding the tardy deployment of equipment to monitor the landslide region and the flooded zone.

However, DoR said landslides might happen at several locations at once, making it impossible to deploy equipment everywhere. Blocks are removed one end at a time, and then the same machinery moves on to the next block point, and so forth.

They further added that they do not own a fleet of machinery; instead, regional offices under the department have yearly framework agreements with the companies that rent out machinery. According to demand, these hiring firms are expected to give the regional offices the necessary equipment. However, during an emergency, the equipment is not easily accessible at the scene of the roadblock or close by.

The regional offices are permitted to hire and use equipment from outside sources to remove barriers during monsoon and other situations, said DoR

According to DANTAK personnel who are responsible for maintaining the country’s eastern road says Trashigang-Samdrup Jongkhar highway is vulnerable to landslides during the monsoon season. “In the Melong Brak area this year, a total of 15 deadly rockslides took place. A 20-ton equipment could not move some rocks because of their size at a few specific areas.

Another event was the cloud burst at the Gumchu bridge near Khaling, which posed a serious threat to the minor bridges that were already in place and those that were still being built.

DANTAK went on to say that maintaining connectivity at all times is one of their biggest concerns because Bhutan’s life depends on its western and eastern roadways. As a result, 24-hour-a-day precautions were taken to maintain road connectivity throughout the rainy season.

DANTAK has taken a number of steps, including necessary preparations like providing enough explosives in landslide-prone areas, maintaining machinery before the monsoon, maintaining stretches of land slide-prone terrain by installing protective structures, and re-establishing road monitoring posts.

Mobile teams with light vehicles were sent out to check the route continuously as well as clear the drains and culverts.

Under Project DANTAK several rescue efforts were conducted to protect the trapped people and their vehicles on the Trashigang route. Additionally, steps were done to make information available to all commuters via social media.

“It might be challenging to immediately arrange and deploy machinery to remove roadblocks, especially in isolated areas where the equipment is not always easy to hire and use. It will be highly beneficial if each of the nine regional offices had a set of excavators and a JCB,” said DoR.

The establishment of an ad hoc control centre to manage decision-making and information dissemination, timely weather forecast dissemination, equipment deployment for prompt response in all strategic locations, use of wheeled excavators, and planting deep-rooted plants in landslide-prone areas are just a few of the recommendations made by DANTAK.