Bhutan created urban Thimphu, now people want more: Kuensel

Buddhist nuns on a road overlooking Thimphu, Bhutan, a mountain nation of 800,000 people.
Buddhist nuns on a road overlooking Thimphu, Bhutan, a mountain nation of 800,000 people.PHOTO: NYTIMES

In its editorial on Sept 19, the paper draws attention to people's growing complaints as Bhutan pursues development.

THIMPHU (KUENSEL/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - When the valley's luxuriant paddy fields were levelled and concrete jungles began cropping up, a new Thimphu was born. It's a story from a not-so-distant past. Change has been dramatic. What is sad, however, is that we have not been able to catch up with the speed of change.

The nation's capital is growing with a character that is unique and unfortunate. In the land of abundant water, we now have severe shortage of water. Some quarters of the city go without water for weeks on end. Who do we blame, our nature conservation and reforestation efforts, or achingly poor distribution system?

Every year, we hear about the thromde's (administrative division) grand projects of bringing water from sources that will give the city enough water.

We will continue to hear such rosy stories in the future. Coming back to the reality, however, our city residents are fighting for this dear little resource. While people living in the ground floor can wash their cars, those higher up have not enough water to cook even. Sometimes the story is other way round.

And let us get out on our city roads. The horror is of another level altogether. Potholes never end. Just when some improvements are brought at last, restless begging begins- drains here, cable lines there. Right in the middle of the thoroughfare, a glorious fountain of human excreta shoots up the air every now and then. But then, we boast of the best and the most sensible city plan on earth.

Past the rutted and pitted misery of roads, we walk into our service centres. There are often only empty chairs to greet you. In hospitals, there aren't doctors on duty. In government offices, our senior officials are "out of station". Yet we stress so much on the efficiency and productivity of our professionals.

The latest development trend is even more disturbing.

While growing number of young jobless people go on banding cars and creating trouble for themselves and others, a worrying number of our old people are thrown out on the streets.

We talk about old-age homes and youth employment, but forget how sustainable they are all in all.

Some say that as a Gross National Happiness (GNH) country we probably shouldn't have old-age homes. But that doesn't solve the growing urban problem of the day. Some say agriculture may be the answer to keep the young people engaged, but we have not been able to pull them to the sector.

It is about Thimphu we are talking about, but many of our growing towns are taking this shape.

There is something wrong in the heart of our development system. Otherwise, the narrative shouldn't be all this painful. Certainly, we could do better.


Kuensel is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.