Wednesday, April 07, 2021

16 Practical Suggestions to Tackle Thimphu’s Water Problem for the Immediate to Long-term

 Let me begin by making it clear that no individual or organisation should feel offended by this post, as it is only intended to start practical conversation and actions to solve this perennial water problem in our capital city.

Fig. 1. Picture of water distribution pipe at the distribution tank above Zilukha.

The people in my neighbourhood and my family went to bed without water last night, and woke up without electricity. No electricity even as I finished writing this post at 7.30 am (i.e. on 6th April 2021). Two most necessities of modern life. Anyway, this post is dedicated to the water issue only.

I woke up this morning (on 6th April 2021) thinking about the water issue and wondered how long we can endure this. As some people commented on my Facebook post yesterday, we will look pathetic to ourselves and also to the outsiders. But this problem, like all other problems, is not without solutions. So, I really would like to invite my fellow citizens to brainstorm and come up with ideas to say good-bye to this persistent problem. As a start, here are 16 practical suggestions that we can work on immediately, starting today.

In my neighbourhood, we are used to and we are happy with water supply of 2-3 hours a day since we have invested in water tanks and store them to last throughout the day. But these days, we did not even get that. What to say about 24-hour water supply!

A. Suggestions for immediate term (doable within this week)

1. Find out the cause of the current problem

Why has the current problem started? Find out the facts. Let us not keep on making assumptions. Is it because water source has become smaller? Why so suddenly? Is it because people have diverted drinking water sources for irrigation? Let us find the solution based on the facts.

2. Give priority to drinking water over irrigation for flower and vegetable gardens

If the source has become smaller, let us find out by going to the actual site whether this is true and why? Is it a natural phenomenon for water source to dry up in this month while the water was sufficient till March? Or is it because water is being diverted for irrigation? In any case, water for drinking should be given the first priority.

3. Tappings from the main supply pipe

The water we get in Zilukha comes from the main tank in Motithang via a main distribution pipe to three syntax tanks above my neighbourhood which serve as the distribution tanks. We have connections to these three distribution tanks. But over the years, a lot of tappings have taken place from the main pipe before reaching the distribution tanks. Some have no choice but to get water that way because they are located much farther away from the distribution tanks. But a proper study needs to be done to find out how many tapings are there and if they are all verified and necessary. Because of these tappings on the way, not much water reaches the distribution tanks in the end.

4. Get rid of illegal connections

Are there illegal connections taken to water fields and gardens? If so, they need to be removed so that others can have enough to at least drink.

5. Stop leakages and overflows

On the one hand we have no water to drink, but on the other hand, a lot of water goes to waste through leakages and overflows. It happens even in our area sometimes. Why? This is a water management issue. We have to stop that.

6. Do a quick study of the water distribution network in problem-hit areas and submit a report to the Government with action plan

My neighbourhood is not the only one that suffers from water problem from time to time. A study has to be done to find out the facts and come up with solutions. How long can we go on like this? This is 2021, not 1981.

7. Make someone accountable for the water issues in Thimphu and make it clear to that person

One of the management lessons I have learnt is that things get done well and in time when we fix accountability on someone clearly. In the case of water issues, it seems this is lacking.

If not, this should not go on and on like this. Now is the time to make it clear as to who is accountable. We know that one rhetoric answer to questions like this is “We are all accountable. We should all do our bit”. Yes, that is also right. But one person has to be there who will ultimately take charge of solving this perennial issue.

B. Suggestions for the short term (doable within few months to 1 year)

8 Water distribution network information system

As suggested by one of my friends, we need water distribution network information system so that the decision makers can quickly understand where the problem lies. Such systems are in use in many countries.

9 Make a plan for proper water distribution management and implement the pan

It is understood that we have enough water for Thimphu. The problem is management of distribution. And yet, we do nothing about it. Now is the time to make a distribution management plan, and again not sit over it, but get moving to implement that plan as soon as possible.

10 Upgrade distribution networks and tanks

There is a need in some places to upgrade/repair distribution pipes and distribution tanks in the locality. The distribution tanks can be improved in my locality my instance, and the distribution system can be made fairer and more leak and overflow-proof to save precious water.

11 Work on formation of an independent corporation to manage Thimphu’s water supply – name it Twenty-Four Hour Water Supply Limited

One of the best ways to solve the accountability and going-round-and-round issue with this perennial water issue may be to set up a dedicated corporation to manage the water supply for Thimphu immediately. They may then be given the mandate to even take care of water supply in other cities. People are not so comfortable with SOEs, but SOEs may be a better at delivering such services. We have talked enough about the water issues. Let the corporation self-sustain on fees with Government regulation and subsidy extended to certain families as they need may be. Generally, we may have to pay more than what we pay now, but I am sure people will be okay with that as long as they get water when they need it.

Let the name of that Corporation be Twenty-Four Hour Water Supply Limited so that the company would feel ashamed to not live up to their name, and work harder. This would also work as a positive brand for the company.

12 Work on building bigger storage tanks near water sources to store water during good water seasons

As I have mentioned earlier, a lot of water is wasted through overflows during the good seasons. We can store them for future use by building bigger tanks near the sources. If we are scared of flooding from such tank bursts, we can build many smaller tanks. That won’t cost a lot of money.

13 Make a holistic MASTER PLAN for Thimphu’s water supply for the next 10-20 years and start implementing it

The current problem is a result of no planning. When I started working in Thimphu in 2000 after graduating from a university in Australia, I was shocked to face water issues in water-rich country. And at that time, I raised the issue informally and formally in some gatherings. And 20 years down the line, we talk of the same issue. What a shame! More than 20 years ago, I spent four years in Australia from 1996 to 1999 and I don’t remember a day when the light went off or tap went dry.

Now is the time to make a Master Plan for 24-hour water supply and implement it. Budget can be mobilized if we have a proper plan. So, budget is not an excuse. For instance, DITT worked on the National Broadband Masterplan Implementation Project and connected almost all the Gewogs to the national fibreoptic network through that project. Why can’t we do the same with water supply?

C. Suggestions for the Long-term (beyond 1 year)

14 Complete building bigger storage tanks to store water during good water seasons

We need to do this and complete them so that we can store water for use during lean seasons.

15 Complete forming the Twenty-Four Hour Water Supply Limited and hand over the water supply work to this corporation.

Let the CEO of Twenty-Four Hour Water Supply Limited take full accountability for 24-hour water supply in the long run. Right now, it seems water supply is nobody’s priority.

16 Implement the Master Plan Phase-wsie starting as soon as possible
Start implementing the Master Plan suggested above as a short term initiative.


This article is an edited version of the Facebook post made by the author in the morning of 6th April 2021. This is being published here for the future reference by the individuals and agencies concerned to see if any of these suggestions could be helpful in solving this persistent issue of our capital city. 



16 Practical Suggestions to Tackle Thimphu’s Water Problem for the Immediate to Long-term

  Let me begin by making it clear that no individual or organisation should feel offended by this post, as it is only intended to start prac...