1.1 Bhutan Humanitarian Background

Disasters, Conflicts and Migration

Natural Hazards



Of the nine Asian LDCs, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Nepal are located in South Asia, Cambodia, East Timor, Myanmar, and Laos PDR are in Southeast Asia. These Asian LDCs experience frequent moderate to severe droughts of all types and all possible impacts of droughts.



Geo-physically, Bhutan is located in one of the most seismically active zones in the world. The Bureau of Indian Standards indicates that the majority of Bhutan is either in Zone IV or V, V being the Zone at the highest risk of sufferin gan earthquake of MSK 9 or greater. Records suggest that while four great earthquakes of magnitude exceeding 8 on the Richter scale occurred in 1897, 1905, 1934 and 1950, another 10 earthquakes exceeding magnitude 7.5 have occurred in the Himalayan belt over the past 100 years.

Bhutan experienced six earthquakes between 2003 and 2011 which ranged from 5.5 to 6.9 on the rector scale. In September 2009 an earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale killed 12 people and damaged a large number of houses, public buildings, and cultural and religious monuments. Approximately 7,290 people were left without adequate shelter. In September 2011 another earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale hit the greater part of Sikkim (India), affecting Haa, Paro, Samtse and Chukha districts in Bhutan resulting in loss of one life due to landslides and 14 injuries and causing structural damage to rural houses, schools, hospitals, local administrative offices, heritage sites, monasteries and renewable natural resources and agriculture extension valued at BTN 1,197.63 million.



 There have been outbreaks of Dengue Fever in 2016 and 2017 (the first such was in 2004). There have been outbreaks of bird flu and there is currently (August 2017) an outbreak of swine flu in Nepal.

Extreme Temperatures


Not frequent but can occur in the border towns of Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrup Jonghkar.



A) Flash floods and landslides are recurrent phenomena in Bhutan causing extensive damage during the monsoon season (traditionally from June to September but more recently there are also bouts of high rainfall at other times of the year). They have been observed to follow a cyclic pattern of 2 to 4 years [p8] with the eastern region being particularly vulnerable. The most recent record of flash floods can be traced to the 2016 monsoon floods that occurred in the six eastern and southern Dzongkhas (districts) which also significantly affected Sarpang Town . Many houses were destroyed and/or partially damaged. Agricultural fields were submerged and destroyed. Other towns such as Gelphu and Phuentsholing were affected as well.

B) Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) are a potential serious natural hazard in the country though relatively localized to lower-lying areas near the streams. Due to the effects of global warming, glaciers in the Himalayas are shrinking rapidly, thus possibly accelerating glacial retreat in this region. According to a recent study conducted by the Department of Geology and Mines, there are 2,674 glacial lakes in Bhutan, of which 562 are associated with glaciers (see this report for further information on Bhutan lakes). The study identified 24 glacial lakes as potentially dangerous lakes that could pose GLOF threat in the near future. In 1994, a GLOF which was caused by the partial burst of Lugge Tsho glacial lake in eastern Lunana damaged more than 1,700 acres of agricultural and pasture land and dozens of houses, washed away five water mills and 16 yaks and destroyed 6 tons of food grains.

High Waves / Surges



High Winds


Although Bhutan has not experienced large scale destruction due to windstorms, snow, hailstorms, between April and June 2017, more than 300 households were severely affected and experienced property damage by wind storm in Punakha, Trashigang and Tsirang dzongkhags (districts).

Insect Infestation


Communities in Bhutan have been affected by outbreaks of pests and endemic crop diseases in the past. Malaria has largely affected the southern belt, with dengue outbreaks recurring since 2004 in municipal areas in this region.

 Mudslides  Yes

Landslide events are closely linked with heavy rainfall and partially flooding, and are a recurrent phenomena in Bhutan. Slopes in the country are highly susceptible to landslides especially in the rainy season; noting that “dry slides” also occur. Most occur in the eastern and southern foothill belt where the terrain is steep and rocks in the underlying soil cover are highly fractured, allowing easy seepage of water and further fracturing due to frost.


Volcanic Eruptions No  
Wildfires Yes Given the rugged and steep topography with thick ground fuels and erratic wind conditions, Bhutan is prone to frequent forest fires. In the last decade, there have been extensive forest fire outbreaks in many parts of the country. The risk of fire outbreaks is generally exacerbated in the dry winter months (November to April). A total of over 800 forest fires damaging an area of around 300,000 acres were recorded by the Forestry Service Division, Ministry of Agriculture, over the period 1995 to 2015.
Man-Made Issues
Civil Strife No  

Internally Displaced Persons



International Conflict



Landmines / UXO Present



Refugees Present


Around 10,000 refugees still reside in UNHCR camps in eastern Nepal. Over 100,000 refugees were settled in third countries mainly in USA, Australia and Canada between 2008 and 2017.


For a more detailed database on disasters by country, please refer to the Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters Country Profile.


Seasonal Effects on Logistics Capacities

Bhutan has four seasons:

  • Spring (March, April and May),
  • Summer (June, July and August),
  • Autumn (September, October and November) and
  • Winter (December, January and February).

Depending on the altitude, the climate varies from semi-tropical to alpine (For every 1,000 m height increase, the temperature drops about 6-7 degrees Celsius).

In Southern Bhutan, the climate is tropical in the monsoon season and may range from 15 degrees Celsius in winter to 30 degrees Celsius in summer.

The east is also warmer than the west, given it has a generally lower altitude.

The centre enjoys a sub-tropical climate with very cool winters while the northern parts of the country have a harsh climate including snowfall two to three times every winter.

Seasonal Effects on Transport

Transport Type

Time Frame

Comments / Details

Primary Road Transport

From June to August and

From November to January

During rainy seasons (June to August), most of the roads become regularly blocked due to soil erosion and landslides. During winter (November to January) high passes may be blocked by snow. Flash flooding quickly erodes non asphalted surfaces.

Secondary Road Transport

From June to August and

From November to January

During rainy seasons (June to August), many of the roads become blocked on a regular basis due to soil erosion and landslides. During winter (November to January) high passes are blocked by snow. Flash flooding quickly erodes non asphalted surfaces.

Rail Transport



Air Transport


During winter occasional snow storms can result in flights being delayed or cancelled.

With visual flights only being possible, heavy rainfall, low hanging clouds or fog may also affect flights, especially during the rainy season and winter. Equally during spring there are stronger winds – especially in the afternoon – which can affect flights.

Waterway Transport





Seasonal Effects on Storage and Handling

Activity Type

Time Frame

Comments / Details


Depends on the type of cash crop.

The Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd. (FCBL) warehouses become full during the time of cash crop harvesting, including apples, potatoes and oranges, when farmers bring their products to FCBL for auctioning.





Depends on the type of cash crop

During apple, oranges and potato harvesting season, there is high demand for transport. This causes sometimes scarcity of trucks for other normal activities since truckers get paid better rates while transporting these cash crops.


Most storage areas visited during the research for the LCA were dry and well ventilated and in particular the Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd. (FCBL). Apart from scarcity of transport during production season, the greatest “hazard” is the road distribution system. During the monsoon season, there are frequent road closures due to mud slides, rock slides and flash flooding.

Capacity and Contacts for In-Country Emergency Response


While Bhutan has a relatively small population (less than 1 million people), there are many ministries and departments involved in the bureaucratic chain to deal with emergencies including the Gross National Happiness Commission, the Department of Disaster Management, the Ministry of Health, the Department of Roads, the Department of Air Transport to the Ministry of Information and Communications. At the next level, there is the Bhutanese Army and the Bhutanese Police Force. At the next level there is the Indian Army and Dantak (a project of Indian Border Roads Organization) which is essentially the Indian Army as well.

All these organizations are manned by competent players who are very concerned about potential emergencies.

In 2013 the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB) enacted the Disaster Management Act, National Disaster Risk Management Framework and Disaster Management Rules and Regulations. An Incident Command System (ICS) has been put in place for the national, district and sub-district levels, however the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) is yet to come up with a National Disaster Management Plan and Contingency Plan.

For more information on government contact details, please see the following link:

4.1 Bhutan Government Contact List


Resident UN agencies in Bhutan are:



UNDP assistance in Bhutan began with an initial allocation of USD 2.5 million for its first country programme (1973-1976) coinciding with the fifth and sixth Five Year Plans.  Prior to 1996, UNDP assistance primarily focused on civil aviation, telecommunications, private sector, energy, tourism and media. Currently, UNDP's supports also includes sustainable progress in people's lives, their needs, efforts and rights.


UNICEF Bhutan works on four key programme areas, with a strong focus on equity and inclusion. These include health, nutrition and sanitation; quality education; child protection and youth participation; and planning, monitoring and communication for advocacy and promotion of behavioural and social change communication. HIV/AIDS prevention and care and gender are cross-cutting elements of the programme.


Bhutan formally joined WHO on 8 March 1982. However, the country had commenced to engage with WHO many years prior to this, the most significant being participation in the International Conference on Primary Health Care, in Alma Ata in September 1978. Bhutan formally adopted the Alma Ata Declaration of 'Health For All,' in 1979, as the guiding principle for the development of modern health services in the country. 

Within the context Bhutan joined WHO to seek its support and technical guidance to develop and promote a modern health care system in the country.


The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, is the lead UN agency for delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

UNFPA expands the possibilities for women and young people to lead healthy and productive lives.

UNFPA’s partnership with the Royal Government of Bhutan started in the 1970s with the first country programme cycle in 1987.


WFP supports the Government of Bhutan to become self-reliant in the management, coordination and implementation of a cost-effective, equitable and quality national school feeding programme.

The Government of Bhutan has been implementing school feeding for more than four decades and WFP support is gradually being phased out. The current development project is facilitating this transition process by transferring knowledge, systems and skills to the relevant government partners. The residual number of students supported by WFP is gradually reducing with responsibility being handed over to the Government on an annual basis. By the start of the 2019 school year, the responsibility for all schoolchildren will be covered by the Government.


FAO assistance to Bhutan reflects national development strategies and is cantered on five priority areas: developing and implementing effective agricultural policies and legal frameworks and building institutional capacity for food security and nutrition; fostering multi-sectoral participation, coordination and value chain development in food and nutrition security programmes; strengthening information management and communication systems related to renewable natural resources; enhancing equitable, productive and sustainable natural resource management and community based enterprise development; addressing climate change and its impacts on agriculture and food and nutrition security.

For more information on humanitarian agency contact details, please see the following link:

4.2 Bhutan Humanitarian Contact List


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