Thimphu since 29 December, 2018 has been facing an unprecedented drinking water crisis as record low temperatures of -7 on 31st December and -8 on 2nd January 2019 have caused not only household pipes to freeze, but it has also affected the Thromde’s supply pipes.
Within the thromde areas, water supplies have been disrupted to large sections with thromde water supply distribution pipelines, house connections, valves and water meters getting damaged, due to formation of ice inside the pipelines and water meters.
Nakphel Drukpa who is the head of the Water Supply Division under Thimphu thromde said, “Almost all the places like Dechencholing, Motithang, Changangkha, Changedaphu, Changzamtog, Babesa, Taba, Langjophakha, Jungzhina, Yangchenphug, Lungtenphu, Olakha, Semtokha and Changbangdhu are facing acute water shortage.”
He said, “Places at a higher elevation like Dechencholing, Motithang, Changangkha and Changzamtog are worst hit with water shortage.”
The National Center for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) under Ministry of Economic Affairs said that there is a possibility of light rain or snow sleets in high altitude areas of Gasa, Haa, Bumthang, Thimphu and high passes areas within 48 hours.
Sonam Tashi from NCHM said, “In Thimphu the minimum temperature recorded as of January 2, 2019 is -8 degree Celsius from 4.5 degree in November last year and it is expected to drop further. The temperature is expected to rise from January 11, 2019.”
The NCHM till date has generally seen a -3 and -4 temperature in the winter over the years but this is the first time that they have recorded a -7 and -8 making it a record of sorts in Thimphu.
The lowest temperature recorded in 2017 and 2016 was -3 degree. This means that the current temperatures are -4 to -5 below normal.
Sonam said, “The recent drop in the temperature is because of Western Disturbance which is an extra tropical storm originating in the Mediterranean region that brings sudden winter rain to the northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinents. Western disturbance causes a cold wave condition which affects South Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Bhutan”.
He said, “During winter season, it is normal to experience a fall in the temperature but when western disturbance becomes too strong, the temperature drops drastically like what happened in last few days.”
Thimphu Thromde’s site engineer Pema Thekchung said, “During a cold winter, water pipes can freeze and drafts and poor heating or insulation can lead to frozen pipes. Extremely cold temperatures, or fluctuations between warm and cold temperatures, can sometimes push frost to a depth that will freeze water services resulting in bursting of water supply distribution pipelines, house connections, valves and water meters”.
Nakphel said, “The pipelines are being repaired and maintained as and when bursts occur. However, the damaged water meters if replaced now may get damaged again. Therefore, Thimphu thromde has issued a public notification regarding disruption of water supplies due to extreme cold weather condition and that the property owners should insulate the pipelines”.
Thromde will replace the damaged water meters due to icing only after the end of winter (February). The water supply to the properties whose water meter is damaged shall be maintained without water meter and they will be billed on average past consumptions as the meters would be damaged again, according to Thromde.
Nakphel said, “Trenching and burying of exposed pipelines are also necessary and as a temporary measure Thimphu Thromde has requested water tankers from the Phuentsholing Thromde to supply water in areas facing severe water shortages to meet the basic water needs of the households.”
Improving weather conditions and the hectic actions of the Thromde’s harried staff and plumbers is starting to make a difference in some areas though low temperatures are forecast till 11th January.
Thimphu is not the only affected Dzongkhag as other neighboring Dzongkhags like Paro, Haa, Gasa, Wangdi Phodrang and others are also reporting frozen and burst pipes.
In response to a question from The Bhutanese on the issue the Prime Minister (Dr) Lotay Tshering said that he himself did not get water in his house for the last five to six days.
Lyonchhen said that he had a long chat with the Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee who told him that the cold wave had affected most of the pipes and the plumbing systems.
He said that the responsibility is not of the thromde alone and that the government must also take ownership and add to the solutions.
Alluding to poor quality construction issues the PM said, “In our system you hire a very good architect who can came up with with a very good drawing but the execution is in the hands of a ‘thekedar’ and so it is a problem of skilled labour and implementation.”
Indicating the helplessness of the government, the PM said that the 12th plan does not have budget for a high tech outdoor plumbing system and the Thromde will continue with the temporary measures because one cannot fight nature at the 11th hour.