The capital, touted as one of the fastest growing cities is buckling under its own growth.
But growth is not always progress or development. Housing, water supply and waste management are among the main issues Thimphu continues to grapple with.
This is poor planning.
Infrastructure development determines human settlement. But economic centres like Thimphu have been unable to keep pace with social changes. Rapid rural-urban migration has put immense pressure on infrastructure and social facilities, testing the efficiency of the municipality that is even unable to distribute basic services like water to its residents. The beautification spree it is executing is good but this exercise should not come at the cost of overlooking basic requirements.
Recent environment and audit reports point out that only 30 percent of the service area in Thimphu receive 24 hours water supply while the rest get between three to eight hours of water. But situations of basic services like this co-exit with the rhetoric of Bhutan being a water rich country.
Affordable housing is another issue that needs immediate attention. The latest living standards survey found that in Thimphu, 17 percent of households live in rent free houses, while 59 percent pay rent. Of this, 85 percent live in dwellings owned by private individuals and 14 percent live in housing owned by the government and by public corporations.
The same survey reported that the living standards of the Bhutanese have improved. This means, access to basic services like drinking water and affordable housing for those in the low and middle-income group, may indicate the living situation but not necessarily the living standards. What kind of living standards is the society living when multidimensional poverty was found highest among children between 0-9 years?
Housing deficit has long been identified as an issue in centers like Thimphu but we still lack a clear housing finance policy. The works and human settlement minister told graduates last year during their orientation that the ministry was drafting a housing policy to address housing issues in thromdes like Thimphu. But later, the ministry officials said that they were only reviewing the existing policy. Lack of coordination and communication is not new in our bureaucracy, nor is weak implementation of policies.
But our policy makers are often oblivious of the problems that the so-called general public face in accessing basic services. The recent online stunt to dispense LPG cylinders without informing the public is to an extent exemplary of how our systems work. Reports and assessments make projections for planners and policy makers to take informed decisions and guide implementation. The strategic environment assessment is expected to help frame policies that are implementable and beneficial to the public.
To what extent these reports would be used as references is yet to be seen.