Bhutan has made impressive progress within the last couple of decades in all spheres of development. We now have a fairly extensive road network; electricity supply has reached all nooks and corners of the country; there is adequate coverage of health and education facilities; we have our own airline including domestic helicopter services and Bhutan has even launched its first space programme. These are good reasons to be proud of as a citizen. But there are certain basic development activities, which have somehow been neglected. This raises an important question of “are we getting our priorities right?” In my view, our government should have given higher priorities to the following –
(1) The number one issue on the priority list is clean and safe drinking water. This is a basic human need. Yet there is not a single dzongkhag or an urban center or village where there is sufficient supply of adequate clean and safe drinking water. Some of our rural cousins have to walk long distances to collect drinking water from stagnant pools and open streams. Some still depend on rainwater. None of the urban centers have proper and adequate drinking water supply system. Not even the capital city of Thimphu! Imagine the anxiety when you do not have water to bathe your baby who has developed rashes; imagine the embarrassment of stinking toilets when you have visitors at home, and imagine the frustration when you do not have water to cook your daily meals, take bath and wash clothes. The latest joke in town is that the most precious gift to be taken when you visit a relative or a friend in Thimphu, I believe, is a jerry can of drinking water! Shortage of adequate and safe drinking water can pose unseen health hazards that could prove to be expensive to the country in the long run.
Why is the problem still not addressed even in this day and age? Is it due to lack of water sources? I do not think so. Bhutan is supposed to have one of the highest per capita water resources. It is abundantly clear at least in the capital city of Thimphu where we have Wangchu river flowing through the heart of valley and many streams flowing from either side of the valley. Then is it due to lack of financial resources? I do not think that’s the reason either when the government has budget to construct many not so urgent highways, institutions and other infrastructure. Besides, it should not be difficult to find donors to fund such essential activity that matters most to the health, wellbeing and even survival of the population. If necessary, fund could be mobilised even from house owners especially in the urban centers. Any building owner would be willing to contribute for 24 hours water connection to save themselves the daily rants and complaints of tenants. Is it then due to lack of technology know how? That would be laughable when the country has even launched its first space exploration programme. Why does the problem still persist then? In my view, it is simply due to lack of serious attention from the government, lack of collective voices from the public and lack of well coordinated policy of many well meaning donor agencies. In other words, we have collectively failed to prioritise our developmental activities. We must remember that access to safe and clean drinking water is a basic human need as well as a right. This is something that has to be done and can be done.
(2) The second most important priority for the rural population is irrigation water supply system. Without adequate water to irrigate their fields, what can farmers grow? If the government wants to achieve food self sufficiency, wants to promote rural development and reduce income gap, is serious about addressing goongtong or rural-urban migration issue, wants to find solution to Rupee crunch, is interested in encouraging educated youth to take up farming to solve employment problem and to keep away our youth from drugs, providing abundant irrigation water supply in rural areas is the only reliable and permanent solution. Again this is not something that is difficult to achieve. All it requires is serious attention of the government. Since a majority of our population depends on agriculture, it clearly deserves the priority and attention of the government.
(3) The third priority is finding an effective solution to human wild life conflict. This problem is not new. For the last many decades, our poor farmers have been helplessly crying from losing their crops to wild animals. After working so hard for months and spending sleepless nights banging tins, shouting at the top of their lungs, running around in pitch darkness – nights after nights before the harvest, to protect their crops, the wild animals come in large numbers and ravage their crops in few minutes when the farmers dose off to sleep out of sheer exhaustion. Imagine their frustration- losing the fruits of their yearlong labour in a span of few minutes! This is the same story you hear, year after year, from all quarters of remote villages. Yet, we have not found a reliable solution to this serious chronic problem. The much talked about crop compensation and crop insurance program never materialised and the villagers themselves are strictly prohibited to kill any of wildlife. This is the root cause of rural-urban migration or the goongtongs. This is also another primary reason for the prevalence of poverty among rural population.
(4) The fourth priority on my list is proper sewerage and drainage systemin urban areas. We cannot afford to delay the sewerage and drainage system in all urban centers. It has huge impact on the health and hygiene of the growing population. Delaying these activities can only lead to incremental cost in future.
I wish the political parties would include these important issues in their manifestos during the upcoming election. I hope the people will raise their voice to demand these needs be met; I hope the donor agencies will look into this very important poverty alleviation issue; I hope the media will give extensive coverage to these important issues and I wish they will be adequately addressed during the next five years which ever party wins to form the government. This is my prayer as a concerned citizen of this country.