City and residents

There is a need to understand each other’s responsibility well. Many problems  will naturally go away.

Thimphu Thromde is home to more than 100,000 people. With land area of about 26km2, it has the highest population density in the country with 4,389 persons per km2. And the city is growing what with the country’s growing population (although now we are beginning to worry about the country’s steadily declining fertility rate) and unimpeded rural to urban migration which, over the years, has manifested in the form of rising unemployment, particularly among the country’s young. However, these are not the only indicators that tell us that Thimphu is a city that is growing rapidly. How the thromde is increasingly falling short in providing the residents with basic services is beginning to give us a clearer picture of how fast the city is growing and what could potentially be the result a few years down the line if clearheaded and urgent actions are now not taken.

Take water, for example. Almost every part of Thimphu is facing water shortage today, although in varying degrees. What transpires after the water flagship programme is another thing. Anyway, the project isn’t coming until 2021. Bringing enough water to the city has been a continuous process—every now and then we hear about heavy projects to channel the water to the city from perennial sources. But when the taps run dry in the households still, it is comfortably blamed on distribution. That is a serious dereliction of duty. It is not for no reason that there are thromde offices and the people elect their representatives every five years. If distribution is the problem, fixing it and ensuring that the city residents do not face water shortage is one of the thromde’s main responsibilities.

And there is waste to talk about. At this rate, Thimphu’s solid waste production will have increased to 124 metric tonnes a day by 2027. Rather than focusing on efficient collection, we have long been floundering with ineffective bans and dumping which goes mostly directly in some of the pristine parts of our neighbourhood. Urbanisation is not just growth, as it is often misunderstood. More important, it is the ability of cities and towns to provide infrastructure services such as sewage, clean water, roads and housing, among others, to support the basic livelihood of the people and businesses. In all these areas and more, Thimphu Thromde has fallen far too short. What is apparent is that in our system of local or city government, heads have little or no power. If they had, provision of basic services would not be a problem even if that meant doing so by relying on increased property tax revenue and fees from waste and sewer collection, among others.

Thimphu as the biggest city in the country is grappling with these problems today but other Bhutanese towns are growing and expanding fast. But people must also understand their roles better and play their part so that city governments can serve them better. Bridging this gap between provider and receivers of services is critically important. How best to address the issues related to urbanisation should be thrashed out now rather than later.

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