Choki Wangmo

What things can go into the flush toilet? Human waste for sure, but not used condoms and sanitary pads.

Sewerage is a big problem in Thimphu. In summer, especially, when there is even just a slight rain, drains and manholes begin to froth.

Gem Tshering, a landlord, has built a toilet near the road. His neighbours have it the same way. Many blame the thromde rules. Is the preservation of heritage and the need to hang on to past giving rise to otherwise easily avoidable waste problems in Thimphu’s suburbs and the main?

The answer remains conspicuously hidden.

For example, in Babena in Thimphu, most household waste goes directly into the Samteling stream. Most of the traditional houses do not have a sewerage tank. At best a polyvinyl chloride pipe connects to the stream.

Six months ago, the Thimphu Thromde and the National Environment Commission told the households to dismantle the structures.

“We don’t have any choice,” Gem Tshering said, adding that he would build one next to his house. He must process clearance and drawings and submit them to the thromde. It’s a long and tedious process. And meaningless too, according to the householders.

Another landlord, Tandin Wangchuk, wants to build a toilet attached to his house. Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that the thromde had asked the residents to dismantle the current structures and clearances have been given to construct attached toilets.

Inside and above the army headquarters in Lungtenphu, more than 150 households are living in what looks like temporary sheds without a proper sewerage tanks and drainage system.

Thrompon said that a letter was sent to the Royal Bhutan Army headquarters to build a proper sewerage system. “The thromde is following-up.”

The residents in Changedhaphu, also in Thimphu, are facing the same problem. Hundreds of thromde workers use pit toilets. When one is filled to the brim, they dig a new one.

Residents said that without streetlights, people defecated everywhere, making the place unhygienic, particularly for children sprawling in the area.

With the space filling up quickly with human waste, Amar Gurung said that he was concerned about hygiene. Summer brings the worst with rising heat and endless rain.

His toilet is located few metres away from his home. The matter becomes difficult when the residents get water only twice a day.

Untreated sewage contains water; nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus); solids (including organic matter); pathogens (including bacteria, viruses and protozoa); helminthes (intestinal worms and worm-like parasites); oils and greases; runoff from streets, parking lots and roofs; heavy metals (including mercury, cadmium, lead, chromium, copper) and many toxic chemicals, including pesticides, phenols and chlorinated organic.

All these pose threats to human life.

Last week, due to a heavy downpour, the Centenary Farmers’ Market in Thimphu was flooded almost completely. The manager of the market, Tshering Tenzin, said that the lack of proper drainage in the north side of the market caused the flooding.

The National Environment Strategy 2020 notes that the National Integrated Water Resource Management Plan 2016 requires every dzongkhag and thromde to prepare an integrated water use management plan based on demographic projections for the next decade to ensure efficient water supply and effluent disposal, including drainage systems in its jurisdiction.

This includes actions for treatment of leachate from waste landfill sites.

With the support of international partners, an energy-saving, small-scale sewage system is being explored for Thimphu Thromde.