The first heavy rain after months in Thimphu tested our drainage and sewerage systems. The result is obvious. The residents in the core city and thromde workers know best.

It has become a norm that whenever there is heavy rain in the capital city, the sewer starts spilling onto the Norzin Lam or on other roads of Thimphu.  Even before the start of the monsoon season, our roads are flooded with human excreta. The recent sewer overflow near Changzamtog is a clear indication of the negative consequences of human negligence on the environment.

City’s workers have identified residents’ carelessness in dumping waste such as pads, toothbrushes, plastic, etc. into septic tanks as the leading cause of the frequent sewer outflow. The accumulation of waste in the septic tank eventually leads to chamber bursts and leakages that pollute the city’s roads and erode the road surface, causing potholes.

The residents say it is the issue stems from the poorly maintained sewer lines. Most of these lines were laid in the 1990s. The thromde had a Norzin Lam redevelopment plan that was supposed to address the issue of the overflowing sewer. It was supposed to replace the old sewage pipes. But then came the Covid-19 pandemic.

We have been a champion of environmental conservation; the country’s commitment to Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a testament to this. However, the recent sewer outflow is a wake-up call for the government and the people of Bhutan to take a more proactive approach towards environmental preservation, particularly waste management.

Another major cause of this issue has been connecting the roof gutter line to the main sewage line and poor maintenance of the inspection chamber. Such issues can be resolved if the authorities come up with relevant strategies, including setting up a regular waste collection system and implementing stricter regulations to deter people from dumping harmful waste into septic tanks.

For instance, the thromde can strictly monitor the gutter line and the inspection chambers, and penalise the defaulters. We should also invest in the maintenance and improve sewer lines to prevent future outflows. On their part, the tenants should also take responsibility and inform the thromde office if their gutters are connected to the sewer lines.

The recent sewer outflow in Thimphu is a call for action for the government and the residents to take a proactive approach towards addressing this annual problem. With months of monsoon rains ahead of us, we cannot rely only on a handful of already bogged-down thromde workers to solve them.