Yesterday, at Parizampa

Danger zone

Danger zone

I’ve been thinking about posting videos on this site for quite sometime now. And I’ve already had a few practice runs. Today, we start with the real deal: our first video shows the Wangchu flash flood at Parizampa. That’s where I spent most of the day yesterday, trying to remove the big log that was lodged in the old Bailey bridge there.

Flash floods!

thimphu-flash-flood-26-may

This photo, of today’s flash flood in Thimphu, was sent to me by Nedup. It shows a swollen Wangchu tumbling down from the Lungtenzampa Bridge. Nedup: thank you.

Continuous rain caused flash floods along the Thimphu valley throughout the day. Punakha, Paro, Haa and Bumthang are among the other valleys also hit by flash floods.

After quickly checking on the dzong area, Sunday Market and Changjiji, I spent the rest of the day monitoring the situation in Parizampa, located slightly upstream from Dechencholing. A log from the old bridge there had fallen into the river, but wouldn’t be swept away as its end was anchored securely to the Bailey structure. The log had to be removed. If it wasn’t, debris could build around it and create a temporary dam, causing even more danger downstream.

With the help of an excavator, RBG and RBA personnel were able to dislodge the log from the bridge and prevent a dangerous situation. I wish to thank the brave soldiers and officers of our armed forces. And thank Ap Gem Tshering, the proprietor of Druk Chachap Construction, who quickly organized and allowed us to use his excavator.

It’s not raining now. But the weather forecast is not good. We are told to expect rain for another two days. And that could mean even more flash floods. So we must work together, every one of us, to contain, as far as possible, the damage to life and property.

Watching our mountains

On the 12th of April, I had promised to post a good picture of the Jigme Singye Wangchuck Range. I’m afraid I haven’t been able to get one. I’m sorry.

Dun dun was correct in commenting that I “was indeed in a hurry” and that my picture is “all hazy, washed out and dry!”

I will be honest: the real reason I wrote the entry, even though I didn’t have a good picture of the mountains, was to remind myself that our northern range is now called the “Jigme Singye Wangchuck Range”.

The picture of the mountain range I’m posting is a photo of the one that accompanies the popular binoculars in Dochula. The photo shows off our important mountains and their respective altitudes. It was given to me by a friend.

On a related note, most tourists visiting Bhutan know that mountaineering is forbidden in our kingdom. And all of them would know that that’s out of respect to our deities that reside in our high mountains.

But some of our mountains have been “conquered”. Do you know which ones? By whom? And when?

JSW mountain range

This morning, at about 8:00 AM, while traveling to Punakha, Dochula honored me with the visual treat that is the Jigme Singye Wangchuck Mountain Range. Our northern range looked simply grand. My photo, which I had snapped very quickly, shows only part of the range, and does absolutely no justice to the real majesty of the Jigme Singye Wangchuck Mountain Range.

But I’ve already asked a friend to loan me a real picture of our mountains. I’ll post that soon.

Doing the work

Regular readers of this blog know that every once in a while I present an issue without making a judgment or giving my views. I just present the facts as I see them.

Why do I do this?

Firstly, to make us think. Merely raising an issue forces me think much more deeply about it. And I am hopeful that it makes you, the reader, also spend some time reflecting on the issue.

Secondly, to solicit your views. Your views are important to me and, I would like to think, to other readers as well. And, by the way, yes, I welcome your comments telling me I’m wrong, especially when they are told convincingly.

And thirdly, to encourage public debate. Constructive discussion will help us determine if an issue is important and, if so, how we, collectively, can address it.

My last entry “Construction waste” was one such issue. The idea was to raise an issue that many of us know about, but don’t necessarily talk about. And the idea is to talk about it publicly so that we, especially those who are responsible for it, are forced to take action.

Construction waste is dumped not only around Memelakha. The forest below the road between Langjophakha and Taba is another favorite spot. And I’ve seen construction waste dumped below the highway opposite the Semtokha Dzong and even on other side of the RBG garage near the Tashichodzong parking lot.

We all know that there’s a lot of construction taking place in Thimphu. And that the waste that’s generated must be discarded. But the question is where? Nobody seems to know. And nobody knows because it looks like we don’t have a landfill for construction debris.

If we had a landfill, most people would gladly take their construction debris there rather than risk being caught illegally dumping it below a road. So our government should identify appropriate landfills. There are many possible sites. The park near Changlimithang, for example, is built mostly on land reclaimed using waste – mud and debris – from construction sites.

Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? So why don’t we have a proper site to dump construction waste? Probably because no government agency has taken the responsibility. I mean, whose job is it, after all? The City Corporation? The Dzongkhag Administration? Ministry of Works and Human Settlement? Department of Forests? I don’t know. But what seems obvious is that the job, whoever’s it is, is not being done.

So we, you and I, should tell our government that something needs to be done. We can tell our friends in the government. We can express our opinions in the media. We can write to the government agencies. We can write to the member of parliament concerned, South Thimphu, in this case.

We can also bring the issue to the NEC’s notice – this is what I’ll do.

And if nothing gets done, we can get together, as concerned citizens, to clean up the mess ourselves. This has been done in the past. And I’m sure RSPN will be very happy to organize another clean up campaign.

Construction waste

This afternoon, while travelling to Punakha, I saw garbage dumped below the highway at several places about 10 kilometers from Thimphu. The waste, which was obviously from a construction site, had been transported by truck and dumped in the forest near Memelakha.

Preparing for storms

A week ago, strong winds damaged 20 houses in Haa, most of them in Katsho. The storm had blown off most of their roofs.

I’m in Haa. And I was delighted to see that most of the houses have already been repaired.

Wind storms are not uncommon in Haa. Just last year several houses had been severely damaged, mostly in Samar.

In fact, wind storms are not uncommon in most parts of our country. My colleague, Dasho Damcho, is currently in Laya meeting farmers still recovering from the effects of last week’s storm. And, barely a year ago, strong winds swept through Eastern Bhutan on two occasions.

So we need to prepare ourselves.

We need to design better and stronger roofs for our traditional houses, especially since the use of CGI is increasing.

And we need to improve the rural insurance scheme. At Nu 150, the current premium is low. But at only 20,000 for a blown roof, the benefits are hardly enough to rebuild and replace a CGI roof.

Pictured is Ap Sanchu’s house in Wangtsa. Photo by Tshewang Dorji, Katsho GAO

Water solution

In “Weather dependent” I’d celebrated the snowfall, without which our farmers wouldn’t be able to plant potatoes. But I’d also agonized that too much snow could be bad for potato cultivation.

These mixed emotions prompted one Anonymous to comment: “You complain when there is no snow and complain again when there is snow. Nothing new – that is the way Bhutanese are and you are a true champion.”

Precisely.

And I’ll keep complaining: it snowed here, but I learnt that other parts of Bhutan, Gakiling and Sombaykha gewogs for example, got hardly any precipitation. There I saw many farmers look helplessly on as the harsh sun scorched their maize and buckwheat saplings even as they barely sprouted. These farmers already fear their worst harvest in many years. This is bad news for, even at the best of times, their farming is barely subsistence.

What can we do? This is what Aum Zekom advises: “See a rough stretch of wilderness just above the farmer in the middle of this photograph? In Sri Lanka, where rain-water harvesting has been practiced for centuries, one finds a small earthen pond in such a position. Apart from using the pond for irrigation when monsoon rain is late, the pond’s seepage into the ground water system below moistens the soil, helps break down organic matters, prevents loss of top soil, etc., and raises land productivity significantly.” (see “More potatoes”)

Sound simple? It is! See what’s being done in Sri Lanka (I recommend downloading the full report). And in Tanzania.

Let’s not condemn our farmers to the vagaries of nature. We are blessed with a bountiful monsoon – let’s make better use of it.

Pictured is our team walking through a parched field in Gakiling.

Weather dependent

Yes! It snowed in Haa. And the land is now moist. So our farmers are working their fields in earnest, preparing them to plant potatoes.

Before the recent snow and rain, our farmers could not plough their fields – the earth was too hard, and much of the dry top soil would have been lost in the wind anyway. If the dry weather had continued, our farmers would have virtually lost the potato season.

So our farmers are happy. But their concerns are not over. It’s threatening to snow again. And if it does snow, and snows heavily, potato planting could be further delayed. Or potatoes could, if already planted, simply freeze. Either way, our farmers would loose.

Now I’m worried that it may snow heavily.

Zeko’s dream

Several people have told me that the quality of discussion among you, the readers of this blog, is unusually high. Your comments are educative, insightful and provide food for thought.

But I am concerned that most casual readers will not see your comments, especially if they read only the main entries. And I think that some of your views are too significant, and too valuable, to leave simply as one comment.

So I’ve decided to periodically post some of your comments as main entries — please let me know if this is okay. Reproducing your comments on the main page will, I hope, draw more attention to your views and encourage public debate.

I’m pleased to reproduce Ap Zeko’s comment on Weathering poverty. I suspect that Ap Zeko is the one and same celebrity featured in Kuzoo.

On February 26, 2009 2:25 AM, Ap Zeko said…

What a shame, when our farmers produce what the rest of the world covets – natural and organic food!

Have we forgot His Majesty’s Vision for the Nation? A nation of “strong dynamic economy” unique to the world? Here is what His Majesty said, at the 2007 Sherubtse Convocation:

“… if we begin to work today on building a Bhutanese economy designed for Bhutan’s needs, then just as we succeeded in creating a development philosophy unique to Bhutan, a democratic transition unique to Bhutan, we will be able to build a Bhutanese economy unique to Bhutan. You all are fully aware that in the past we embraced modernization based on our own terms and conditions. Today if we work hard, if we plan ahead we will be able to build a Bhutanese economy for ourselves and for our children’s future, once again on our own terms and conditions.”

Our economy’s strength and dynamism come from nurturing what is unique to Bhutan. That means, we must understand opportunities the world market offers, find those where we can excel, and combine the frontier of knowledge, information, and technology with our own tradition and age-old wisdom – resolutely and aggressively, in everything we do.

I can just hear what the readers might be thinking – “but the government isn’t doing anything!”

Well, well, well! It’s easy to criticize others, including “the government”. But, changes we want will never happen unless we act, ourselves. With a little capital, combined with a lot of wisdom and cooperative spirit, managing the uncertainty of rain will be nothing to our brave famers.

Let’s stop looking to the government to do something on everything. Let’s ask, “What can I do to change?” instead. Let’s dream big, like His Majesty did. Let’s start small, but start acting. That’s how all dreams come to reality.