According to the Works and Human Settlement Minister, Dorji Tshering, while it is simple to build and maintain a farm road in dry season, the difficulty comes during the monsoons when heavy rainfall destroys the farm roads.
Lyonpo said Bhutan has to explore making climate change resilient roads. He added that drainage is a critical part in the construction of farm roads, as the rainfall water from the road’s surface has to be drained off as quickly as possible.
“If there is more water on the road surface, there will be greater damage, therefore, we must release the rainwater as far away from the road as possible. As a result, our drainage system should be improved,” Lyonpo said.
The GSB work on the farm roads has begun, and the ministry has directed that a drain be erected alongside the base course. Lyonpo added that the current design of the farm roads is to withstand the effects of climate change.
Lyonpo said, “When we talk about a better drainage system, we’re talking about two sorts of drainage systems: roadside drainage and cross drainage. The term ‘cross drainage’ refers to the process of removing water from beneath the road. And this is something that has to be improved.”
Meanwhile, with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting major sectors, reprioritization of the planned activities have been undertaken by the government.
According to the Chief Planning Officer, Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), Tandin Wangmo, activities of lesser priority during the current situation, such as office construction, staff quarter constructions, and non-essential training and travel activities, consultancies were de-prioritized.
The government prioritized activities which would enhance food security, job creation and skills development, import substitution and alleviating the local economy.
The FR (farm road) improvement project was undertaken in light of the above situation, and of the multiple benefits it was seen to bring about, particularly to improving connectivity for the communities across the country. Further, it was also estimated that raw materials as well as workers would be largely available locally.
It was in September 2020, that as part of the Government Economic Contingency Plan, the improvement of farm roads in 201 gewogs was initiated. Local Governments (LGs) have proactively pursued implementation of the works in their respective gewogs.
COVID-19 affected the implementation, mainly in terms of poor-bidder turn out, especially in some of the remote gewogs, lack of workforce in some places and dearth of good quality materials.
To ensure that the projects are not stalled completely, LGs have been putting in numerous efforts and interventions, such as employing local workers, collaborating with Build Bhutan Project where required. In terms of technical backstopping, MoWHS has been providing the necessary support despite the challenges. The preliminary assessment found that the implementation of the projects is progressing well. 22 farm roads are reported as completed in June.
The Phase II works will be initiated upon receipt of assessment report of the phase I farm roads from MoWHS. GNHC is working closely with MoWHS on initiating technical assessment of these completed farm roads.
GNHC has looked into four main criteria, the year of construction, number of beneficiaries, farm land in acreage and production. The criteria are applied on the list of existing farm roads received from the LGs into implementation phases.