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A lesson from Kangpara

Roads in Bhutan are a harbinger of development. It is the country’s lifeline and impacts of being connected with a road are visible in communities.

Farm roads make up about 41 percent of the country’s road network today. Although its construction has enhanced rural communities socio-economically, the poor quality of farm roads remain prone to seasonal hazards and cut off homes for weeks.

While residents in other parts of the country lament about the state of roads in their communities, groups of farmers in Kangpara, Trashigang are setting an example on how communities could help keep their roads pliable. Farmers have formed three groups to contribute labour for routine maintenance, not because the guidelines require it but because as the ultimate beneficiaries, it is their responsibility to maintain the road. Having lived through the challenges of not having a road, farmers like those in Kangpara know how to value such an infrastructure.

Which is why they have taken upon themselves to construct a drain along the road, sending a message to road authorities and planners that drainage is not apart but a critical part of a road. Cutting a space through rocks and fields and trees is not enough to call it a road. A road has to be pliable for the communities to benefit. When it doesn’t, we have only been successful in scarring the environment.

Even as works are underway to build more roads, the condition of roads in the country are in dire need of maintenance. But our tolerance to poor construction practices has cost us millions as we build and rebuild and widen and black top roads. We spend most of our budget on building roads. We may be spending more on maintenance.

Records with department of roads show that only five percent or 104.39kms of the country’s 12,204kms are perfectly smooth while 11 percent or 201.53kms of road have many large potholes and cracks.  It is estimated that the replacement costs of road in the country will be more than Nu 100 billion. Despite the roads being the country’s most expensive and valuable infrastructure, we don’t see much being done to maintain this investment. This even though authorities are aware that bad road conditions incur costs and cost lives. There is a need to assess what percent of motor vehicle accidents that are occurring more frequently, is due to poor road conditions.

Our policy makers and communities in other parts of the country need to learn from the people of Kangpara. They are taking ownership of their farm road to ensure that their lifeline remains pliable for all times. They tell us that we don’t have to go abroad and bring in consultants to provide us solutions to problems that are of our own making. They show us that answers to our problems can always be found at home. The question is, are we willing?

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