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Washed off: the remains of 2004 floods
For the people of Phongmey gewog, about 30 kilometres north of Trashigang town, the onset of the rainy season is a double-edged sword. The gewog's farmlands need the rains, which in the recent past have caused little streams to swell and cause devastation to life and property in the gewog.

The road to the gewog often gets washed away, cutting off Phongmey from the rest of the country for months.

"It has already started raining and there is no peace of mind," said Sonam, a mother of three, adding that she hesitated to carry out usual plantations fearing the effort would go to waste if it flooded. "It can happen anytime. I fear sending my children to school."

For Namgay Thinley, 57, just recollecting the 2004 flash flood that washed away his crops and narrowly spared his house was a nightmare. "Every time it rains heavily I become very anxious," he said.

He said that the savings he made in his entire lifetime, was spent in building the house. In preparation of eventualities small business in Phongmey and gewogs to its north are making bulk buys of essentials. This was because the flooding of Yudiri stream, about three kilometres before reaching Phongmey, cut off road access.

"We bring our goods from Trashigang and Samdrup Jongkhar and prepare for monsoon season. But most of the time we lack budgets to bring goods in bulk," said Pema Dorji, who heads the business community in northern Trashigang.

He said that earlier when there was no road, people carried goods on horses and had to walk for about six hours from Rangjung.

"With the coming of the road we thought it would improve but it has become worse. Now we cannot even walk as there is no path," he said.

There were a total of 14 shops in Phongmey, four in Sakten, three in Merak, and seven in Khardung.

Concern was also raised in the recent DYT meeting, according to Phongmey gup Dorji Wangchuk. In addition to other streams, he said that Dungjuri, another stream few kilometres from Yudiri, also flooded last year.

"When the road was not in a condition we had to travel through Yabrang and Phimsong village, about four hours walk from Phongmey and from there we had to walk for another hour to reach Rangjung," he said. Dorji Wangchuk said that several visits were made at the source of the rivers and it was found that the area was deforested.

However, he said that the source was not as big as expected. "It seems the water that has seeped inside was contributing to the growth of the stream level," he said. Dzongkhag officialssaid that the entire area was unstable and was gradually sliding down.

"A major deforestation has taken place in the area," said Trashigang dzongda Minjur Dorji. "It might improve if the area was handed over to the park office". Forestry officials said that plantation works at the site was carried out in the past, but some of it was washed away.

According to road officials in Trashigang, no construction activities would be carried out this monsoon, but machines and workers would be deployed as and when required.

"All the bridges that were built in the past could not withstand the flood. So even if we built one it would be useless," said the executive engineer, Tseten Dorji. A log bridge costing more than Nu. 0.7 million and suitable for light and medium vehicles was washed away last August.

He said that there were plans to construct a bailey bridge, but an investigation carried out by the ministry had found that the place was not feasible.

"Until we find an alternative, our machines and labours will ensure that the road is open," said Tseten Dorji.

Contributed by Kesang Dema, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2007
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