Water comes second, it’s no. 1 for urbanites

Tshering Palden

Road and bridges, better and continuous water supply and transport and communication services are priority areas for rural communities to improve their welfare, according to the 2012 Bhutan living standard survey (BLSS) report.

Respondents gave these as priorities when asked to give three actions they deemed important for the government to undertake to improve their welfare during the survey.

Of the 84,427 households surveyed in rural Bhutan, more than 26 percent listed road infrastructure and bridges as their priority. For 23 percent of households, better water supply was their concern. For around 20 per- cent of households, it was better commerce, transport and communication facilities.

As of last year, the country had a road network of 9,491km of which, 3289.2km are farm roads connecting re- mote villages, most of them built in the current five-year plan. A total of 77 motorable bridges and 47 suspension bridges were also built in the current plan.

At least 31 percent of rural households walk for two hours or more to get to a farm road, according to the BLSS 2012. Many of the farm roads, also known as gewog connectivity roads, are not in the best condition and, in some cases, the connecting bridges are yet to be built.

Except for four gewogs of Laya and Lunana under Gasa dzongkhag, and Soe and Lingshi under Thimphu, all other 201 gewogs are connected with roads.

While there are public transport services connecting the headquarters of most districts, the newly built farm roads do not have public transport service, and villagers have to depend on taxis and private vehicles that charge very high fares.

Even though cellular connectivity is around 99 percent and mobile ‘phone ownership is 90 percent in rural Bhutan, at least 4.4 percent of rural households walk or travel two hours to the nearest phone, according to the BLSS 2012.

More than 73 percent of rural households have access to piped water, of which about eight percent use a neighbour’s pipe, while 14 percent use a public outdoor tap. The government constructed 1,182 rural water schemes against their target of 1,004 in the current plan, according to the State of the Nation report in 2013.

Bumthang and Gasa dzongkhags are the only two dzongkhags that have complete coverage of improved water source.

Better water supply is also a priority in improving welfare of urban households, but the other priorities are housing and employment opportunities.

Of a total 43,515 urban households, 20 percent said better water supply was a priority. According to the survey, 87 percent of urban households had access to piped water, while 5.7 percent sourced from the neighbour’s pipe, and six per- cent used the public outdoor tap.

Employment opportunities were the key concern for most urban households, with 29 percent listing it as their main priority, while 25 percent cited housing shortage as a priority.

The survey, carried out from March to May last year by the National Statistics Bureau (NSB) through 112 enumerators, used a sample size of 8,968 households with a total of 39,825 persons represent- ing 127,945 households with 581,257 persons.