A national policy is expected to cover both rural and urban sanitation issues 

To focus on the management of liquid waste in the country and to have a single policy that will look into sanitation and hygiene issues in both urban and rural Bhutan, a National Sanitation and Hygiene Policy has been drafted.

The Ministry of Works and Human Settlement conducted a one-day national consultative workshop on the first draft of the policy on April 26.

Water and sanitation division’s chief engineer Dechen Yangden said most of the existing sanitation and hygiene guidelines, acts, policy and rules do not adequately cover urban sanitation.

Dechen Yangden said they had proposed the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) to put in place an urban sanitation and hygiene policy since the health ministry already had a policy for rural areas.

“But both the ministries have separate mandates and the commission suggested that instead of two, a policy at the national level be framed,” she said.

The policy is important because the rural sanitation policy does not cover urban sanitation issues in resettlements and small or emerging towns, Dechen Yangden said.

“Most of the tools and guidelines mention only bigger towns ignoring small towns like Gedu and Tsimasham,” she said. “This particular policy will also stress on liquid wastes, which is missing at present.”

Department of engineering services director Tenzin said this policy would clear the roles and responsibilities of different agencies and create collaboration to address the issues of sanitation and hygiene.

“Without such a policy or guidelines, there are no well-designed septic tanks while those constructed in the open environment overflows,” he said. “Most of the fecal sludge are disposed in the landfill or sometimes left open.”

With the first consultation completed, the director said they would now go to the regional level for consultation and then the national level to finalise the draft before submitting it to the GNHC.

“Consultation is important at all levels because we’ll have to take into consideration the needs of the people at large including women, girls and the differently-abled,” he said.

Supported financially by SNV and UNICEF, the policy is drafted and formulated by Kyingkhor consultancy services in collaboration with TARU, an Indian firm.

Some stakeholders shared that there is a lack of support for CSOs, wastewater management and a monitoring, legal framework for monastic institutions, armed forces and proper toilets along the highways.

Yangchen C Rinzin