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Thimphu's water problem

Publication Date : 06-08-2012


It's no surprise that informal but long existing traditional water user associations are filling in where the Thimphu city corporation has not been able to reach.

Before Thimphu became a city in Bhutan, the traditional system was how water was shared within the largely rural and agrarian community.

Thimphu city has in place water supply systems supplying to at least 3,000-metres connections in the city's core area. But many areas of the city, that are growing quickly making Thimphu one of the fastest growing urban centres in the region, do not get any supply from the municipality.

In such a situation, there are no options for building owners other than going to these associations and seeking their help to get a private connection; and, in some cases, to supplement the limited supply coming from the municipality.

The municipality has several donor-funded ongoing projects to meet rapidly increasing demand, but these projects take time to come through. In the meantime, the city continues to grow like some wild invasive creeper.

Thimphu has long outgrown its sewerage system, which, when built in the mid '90s, was meant for a population of about 15,000 people. Today, its estimated population is more than 100,000. Likewise, the landfill at Memeylakha, which was supposed to last at least a decade, overflowed within a few years.

At one time nobody was keen to live near the open-air sewerage ponds in Babesa because of the odour. Today, buildings are standing right next to it, and people live in them with no complaints at all.

All these are signs of a city rapidly expanding and a water supply struggling to keep up. While the water users associations within the city are providing a valuable service, some of their beneficiaries are beginning to question the amounts being charged for the connection and monthly payments for the caretaker.

These are being raised in the context of an urban setting, and since water is a state resource, according to law. But it’s clear the law of supply and demand is in play here, no matter what the rules say on paper.

No regulations are yet in place to enforce the act and, until that happens, not much will change. But while that is being done, authorities could also look at how water is used.

A lot is wasted through unclosed taps and overflowing tanks, particularly in case of institutional users. Providing a separate line for construction or industrial use is also an idea.

Looking into these areas could go a long way in meeting water needs that is only going to increase.


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