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Bracing urban development

With National Statistics Bureau’s launching of population projection for Bhutan, there is a clear message for the urban planners.

According to Population Projections Bhutan 2017-2047, by 2037 half the population of Bhutan will be living in urban areas. In the 30-year projection period, urban population of 275,000 is likely to increase to 502,000.

What this means is that urbanisation in Bhutan could increase to 57 percent from the current 37.8 percent. But it is dzongkhag like Thimphu that will face the biggest pressure of rising urban population. Going by the projection, 263,000 Bhutanese will be living in Thimphu by 2047.

Although on a smaller scale, Paro will witness a similar development pattern.

The rise of urban population has given Bhutan one of the biggest socioeconomic problems of the day. Not many years ago, acres of green paddy fields in Thimphu valley had to be brought under urban development. The kind of housing scheme we came up with to accommodate the rising population in the capital was met with challenges myriad. To name but a few, there wasn’t water enough for the city population, there wasn’t enough space for the growing number of vehicles in the city.

Whatever projections our planners might have had in the past, it looks like they did not lend themselves much to the successful planning of the future.

Now that we have a clear projection, we also get the real sense of challenge before us. If we fail to develop urban infrastructure that the rising population will demand, the greatest banger is that we would be creating fecund grounds for urban poverty. Already, housing is a serious problem in the capital. Water finally has been included as a flagship programme in the 12th, which is expected to solve the problem water shortage by extent.

But then, more people would mean more vehicles, which will require huge space putting pressure on the health and environment. Affordable housing should be at the centre of the development plans because many social ills could spring from it otherwise.

Thirty years may seem like very long, but we may not really have such luxury of time.

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