Let me begin by making it clear that no individual or organization should feel offended by this post, as it is only intended to start a practical conversation and actions to solve this perennial water problem in our capital city.
The people in my neighbourhood and my family went to bed without water last night.
I have been thinking about the water issue as I got up this morning and wondered how long we can endure this. We will look pathetic to ourselves and also to the outsiders. But this problem, like all other problems, is not without solutions.
As a start, here are 16-point practical suggestions that we can work on immediately, starting today.
In my neighbourhood, we are used to and we are happy with water supply of 2-3 hours a day since we have invested in water tanks and store them to last throughout the day. But these days, we didn’t even get that. Now talk about 24-hour water supply!
A. Immediate term (within this week)
1. Why has the current problem started? Find out the facts. Let’s not keep on making assumptions. Is it because water source has become smaller? Why so suddenly? Is it because people have diverted drinking water sources for irrigation? Let’s begin the solution by finding out the facts.
2. Give priority to drinking water over irrigation for flower and vegetable gardens. Is it a natural phenomenon for Water source to dry up in this part of the year while the water was sufficient till March? Or is it because water is being diverted for irrigation? In any case, water for drinking should be given the first priority. If drinking water is not enough, why give water for irrigating vegetables and flowers?
3. The water we get in Zilukha comes from the main tank in Motithang via a main distribution pipe to three syntax tanks above my neighbourhood which serve as the distribution tanks. We have connections to these three distribution tanks. But over the years, a lot of tapping have taken place on the main distribution pipe before reaching the distribution tanks too. Because of these tapping on the way, not much water reach the distribution tanks in the end.
4. Are there illegal connections taken to water fields and gardens? If so, they need to be removed so that others can have enough to at least drink.
5. On the one hand we have no water to drink, but on the other hand, a lot of water goes to waste through leakages and overflows. It happens even in our area sometimes.
6. Do a quick study of the water distribution network in problem-hit areas and submit a report to the Government with action plan. My neighbourhood is not the only one that suffers from water problem from time to time. A study has to be done to find out the facts and come up with solutions. How long can we go on like this? This is 2021, not 1981.
7. Make someone accountable for the water issues in Thimphu and make it clear to that person. One of the management lessons I have learnt is that things get done well and in time when we fix accountability on someone clearly. In the case of water issues, it seems that no one is accountable.
8. As suggested by my friend Mr. Basant Chhetri in my earlier Facebook post, we need water distribution network information system so that the decision makers can quickly understand where the problem lies. Such systems are in use in many countries.
9. It is understood that we have enough water for Thimphu. The problem is management of distribution. And yet, we do nothing about it. Now is the time to make a distribution management plan, and get moving to implement that plan as soon as possible.
10. There is a need in some places to upgrade/repair distribution pipes and distribution tanks in the locality. The distribution tanks can be improved in my locality my instance, and the distribution system can be made fairer and more leak and overflow-proof to save precious water.
11. One of the best ways to solve the accountability and going-round-and-round issue with this perennial water issue may be to set up a dedicated corporation to manage the water supply for Thimphu immediately. They may then be given the mandate to even take care of water supply in other cities. People are not comfortable with SOEs, but SOEs may be a better to manage such services than a government agency. We have talked enough about the water issues. Let the corporation self-sustain on fees.
Let the name of that Corporation be called Twenty-Four Hour Water Supply Limited so that the company would feel ashamed to not live up to their name, and work harder. This would also work as a positive brand for them.
12. As I have mentioned earlier, a lot of water is wasted through overflows during the good seasons. We can store them for future use by building bigger tanks near the sources. If we are scared of flooding from tank bursts, we can build many smaller tanks. That won’t cost a lot of money.
13. Make a holistic plan for Thimphu’s water supply Master Plan for the next 10-20 years
The current problem is a result of no-planning.
Now is the time to make a Master Plan for 24-hour water supply and implement it. Budget can be mobilized if we have the proper plan. So, budget is not an excuse. For instance, DITT worked on the Broadband Master Plan Implementation Project and connected almost all the Gewogs to the national fiber optic network through that project. Why can’t we do the same with water supply?
14. Complete building bigger storage tanks to store water during good water seasons. We need to do this and complete them so that we can store water for use during lean seasons.
15. Complete forming the Twenty-Four Hour Water Supply Limited and hand over the water supply work to this corporation.
Let them charge what is necessary with Govt regulation, and let them self-sustain. We may have to pay more than what we do now, but paying more is better than living without water.
16. Implement the Master Plan Phase-wise starting as soon as possible. Start implementing the Master Plan suggested above as a short term initiative.
Dr Tshering Cigay
The writer is the CEO at Thimphu TechPark