A few months ago, it was inappropriate, even wrong to interpret a pandemic like the Covid-19 as an opportunity or a fortunate occurrence. Five months after we detected the first case and went through a strict nationwide lockdown, the general agreement is that the pandemic has opened our eyes and minds.
It is still sensitive to call it a blessing in disguise. But what the pandemic taught us, if we are willing to learn from the disruptions it caused and how we coped with it, It has to be the most powerful transformative force. When we were caught off-guard by a sudden lockdown, it exposed our shortcomings. And when we rushed to ease the inconveniences and help people with improved service delivery, it showed us endless opportunities.
Officials and frontline workers were overwhelmed with problems and complaints. The lockdown came without a warning and there were no plans. The immediate need was essentials, basic items like rice, oil, sugar salt and baby food to see through the lockdown. Despite immediate efforts to ease the problem, it failed. It failed because we have had no plans. It failed because we waited for a crisis or a disaster to put plans in place.
The capital city was divided into zones. It expanded, later, to the dzongkhags. It was not as easy as expected. Besides the numerous hotlines created overnight, which created more confusion, delivery of essentials was delayed because there was no zonation or exact address of the capital city’s residents.
The tall white building behind Changangkha Lhakhang, which many could relate to a decade ago is no more relevant. There are several tall white buildings behind the lhakhang now. The city doesn’t have a proper postal address. The need was recognised years ago, but we are still looking for people by landmark. Olakha and Babesa were villages not long ago. Landmarks like Dantak “wet canteen” or Dratshang building will not work. Every building looks the same.
A team looking at the zoning system of the capital city is looking beyond the lockdown in zoning the city. This is a welcomed decision. The Covid-19 pandemic may come to an end one day, but we could see other crisis- natural or man-made. Given our location in a fragile ecosystem, we are prone to natural disasters like floods, fire, landslides and earthquakes. Mapping the city is of paramount importance.
However, this is not a new concept. Two decades ago, we realised the importance of proper town planning. The capital city was undergoing rapid changes and we realised we need a plan. A grand master plan that encompasses 25 years was readied based on a concept called intelligent urbanism. The idea was good. There was no implementation.
If we had, for instance, identified neighbourhood nodes, distinct residential and commercial areas or had proper postal codes and addresses, we would have not gone through a lot of problems during the lockdown that we experienced. In fact, it would have helped manage the situation.
Our strength is making plans, beautiful and convincing plans. Our weakness is not implementing them. And the bigger problem is not fixing accountability. The question is how long will we need the command of the King to implement that was already agreed or approved.
We look up to His Majesty The King for leadership and vision. We fail when we don’t live up to the expectation. How long will we depend on commands and orders to find simple solutions to simple problems?