Parched in a glacier-rich river valley

Bhutan is a nation that prides itself on being endowed with a rich natural ecosystem, and lush mountain valleys which are blessed with numerous glacier-fed rivers, brooks, and streams. No guessing, hydropower remains one of our key sources of government revenue while there are dozen more in the pipeline which is expected to enrich us further.

The lush Thimphu valley is also blessed with the sparkling Wangchhu River that snakes through the capital’s heartlands. However, the residents of this city of about 200,000 inhabitants face a strange predicament every year – dry water taps and long queues of people holding empty jerry cans – a scene akin to the sub-Saharan African villages where emancipated people and animals of all hue kinds make a beeline for scanty waterholes in a sea of desert.

What’s ironic is that our communities are caught in this unnecessary quagmire despite being endowed with abundant water resources. Our taps run dry for days on end while the mighty river roars past us. We have thunderous monsoon rains flooding our streets and valleys while people are forced to buy bottled water even to clean up their bodies.

Why can’t our planners even ensure a fundamental requirement like the provision of safe drinking water for their citizens? And why is it that despite decades of planning, devising, and over-emphasis and deliberations a persistent issue like controlling stray dogs has not been achieved? Just the other day a young girl was tragically killed by a pack of feral dogs, which is the height this nagging problem has dragged us into.

The answer is corruption!

If our roads are riddled with potholes today, it is because years ago the contractor who took up the construction works colluded with the site engineers and the so-called chiefs and, while filling their purses to the brim, left behind a shoddy work that we are left to patch up today. If our recently constructed hospitals and government infrastructures have developed cracks and are crumbling even before it is inaugurated, it is because of the oversight of procurement officials, chiefs, and engineers who, rather than having a sense of ownership for public property, is more adamant on getting their cuts.

The water issue and stray dog issue also bear all the hallmarks of similar forces at play. Because no one takes ownership of public properties, be it a government pool vehicle or other community infrastructures like parks, roads, schools, and hospitals. Contractors and engineers colluding and earning astronomical sums have become a norm today while service and delivery of the end-product have taken a nasty beating.

Ask our civil servants if they have ever bought A4 papers for their school-going children in their entire careers. The answer is a resounding NO because it is readily available in their offices, and why buy when you have access to public property.

All these shortcomings, inferior end-product, recurring snags, rework, patching, redoing, and mismatches are the undoing of the rampant corruption which is omnipresent in our government and state-owned sectors. And, so long this social malice is not curbed; we can never find a viable solution to our pothole-riddled roads, inconsistent water supplies, disappearing office equipment, and the forever dragging stray dog issues.

By the way, as we queue up to fill our empty jerry cans we hear that our government engineers are taking a field day off their normal office duties and working at a private site to mint more money. Maybe they are paid less. But we hear they drive swanky cars and eat imported beef.