The waste exhibition on World Water Day last Friday at Kawajangsa in Thimphu was a sobering reminder that we are not doing enough to manage our waste.

The Royal Society for Protection of Nature and the partners, institutions and individuals, who brought the awareness to the minds of the people in the manner they did, deserve our commendation and good wishes.

Waste is easily the biggest problem confronting the nation today. While we continue to flounder with management attempts and hiccups, the rapid economic development that the country is poised to experience in the coming years will only add to the problem of growing waste. The fact is increasing urbanisation and generation of waste is directly proportional. Also, now, we are witnessing production of more non-biodegradable waste.

Some environmentalists tend to downplay Bhutan’s waste problem by comparing with that of other countries. But we cannot afford that; comparison is irrelevant. It is even dangerous because arriving at such a conclusion can give rise to complacency. We need only look at our once pristine forests and sparkling rivers to comprehend the extent of pollution due to increasing waste. The problem of growing waste is no longer restricted to thriving towns and urban centres. Our water resources may be healthy at the macro level, but according to Waterkeeper Alliance, Bhutan’s key rivers contain significant levels of E.Coli, a type of bacteria that normally lives in your intestines. In other words, our rivers are significantly polluted, which can cause food poisoning, pneumonia and urinary tract infections, among others. In places like Thimphu and Phuentsholing, especially, where there are large concentrations of automobile workshops, discharge of waste oil and other effluents is among the principal sources of water pollution.

The exhibits at Kawajangsa, fished out of a stream in Chubachu – rotten footwear and decaying rags – were a stark testament to our efforts at managing one of the biggest problems facing the country today. Going by some estimates, almost half the Bhutanese population will live in urban areas by next year. The kind of complexity it has now become, waste management ought to be handled properly and highly efficiently because production will only increase. There is an urgent need to act before the issue of solid waste management and associated environmental and social problems become more pronounced.