Are Bhutan’s monsoon landslides becoming more deadly?

With increased precipitation and better reporting, Bhutan is recording more disasters. Experts say that the government needs to listen to science and rise to the challenge.

On the morning of 16 June, Bhutan woke up to the tragic news that 10 people had been killed in a landslide at around 1am in the northern district of Gasa. This was the largest number of fatalities in a natural disaster in Bhutan this year. Landslides and flooding killed six people in 2019 and four in 2020.

The victims – seven women and three men – had been camped with 33 other people from Lungo village at a place called Ri-Drupzhi in Laya Gewog, Gasa district, since 17 May. They were collecting cordyceps, a valuable fungus believed to have medical properties, local community leader Lhakpa Tshering told The Third Pole. Five others were severely injured, and were airlifted to the National Referral Hospital in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu.

The rescue was only possible because one of the cordyceps collectors, Phurpa, who was camping some distance away, heard their cries and contacted the local authorities. At least six children in Lungo village have lost their mothers to this landslide, said Pema Wangchuk, a local leader. “The incident has left highlanders traumatised, and all cordyceps collectors have returned to the village,” he said.

This is not the only landslide to have occurred in Bhutan this year. Pema Singye, chief programme officer at the Department of Disaster Management, said that a 39-year-old woman and her infant son had died while sleeping in their home at Naudhokay village in Phuentsholing, southern Bhutan.