Yangchen C Rinzin
The growing urban sanitation problem could be addressed with the National Sanitation and Hygiene Policy, which is now in place.
The policy that was approved by the Cabinet, as informed by the Prime Minister during the Annual Performance Agreement with the autonomous agencies on Monday, is to provide clear direction to address the urgency to address urban sanitation adequately.
According to the Joint Monitoring Programme Report 2019, although 78 percent of country has access to improved sanitation services, it is of poor standard with various management issues resulting in high level water related disease outbreaks.
It has been estimated that by 2020, around half the country’s population will live in urban areas. With the declaration of 16 new Dzongkhag Thromdes and 20 Yenlag Thromdes, urban sanitation problems are expected to grow.
The policy, which was drafted in October 2017 will guide the government, private sector, institutions, hospitality industry, civil society organisations (CSOs), bi-lateral and multi-lateral agencies associated with the sanitation and hygiene sector.
The 2016 sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities (HCFs) report states that 41.48 percent of the 28 hospitals surveyed reported E.coli or faecal contamination. Some toilets were found to be dysfunctional.
One of the policy statements are to achieve universal coverage and access to sustainable services for all where the works and human settlement ministry (MoWHS) and health ministry (MoH) in collaboration with the local government would ensure all dzongkhags and thromdes are open defecations free.
“The Tourism Council of Bhutan in collaborations with two ministries should ensure highways are provided with adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities,” the sanitation policy states. “It would also adopt appropriate technology for sustainable sanitation systems.”
It was found that the performance of the sanitation and hygiene sector in implementing programmes are not coordinated for the lack of national policy. The policy states it would develop sustainable and efficient fianancing mechanism for safe sanitation and hygiene services including behaviour change communication at all level.
The policy will also ensure there is no ambiguity over roles and responsibilities in the sector, especially in the peri-urban areas, and a disconnect between existing policies and legal instruments that deal with sanitation and hygiene.
The Water and Sanitation Rules of 1995 stipulate that both black and grey water outlets should be connected to either a municipal sewer line or septic tank. However, currently, greywater is typically discharged directly to open drains without treatment, according to the policy.
In the four Thromdes, the Thromde provides de-sludging services including transporting of pre-treated wastewater from septic tanks to treatment facilities. However, proper management of septic tanks, safe transport and disposal of sludge is a growing concern for urban and peri-urban areas in the absence of proper guidelines and standards.
According to the policy, MoWHS is responsible to make individual households and public aware of adopting appropriate sanitation technology options that are cost efficient and most effective.