Water pipes

Pipes for peace

Thank you for taking part in “Big picture – 10”.

Your responses were varied, and many of them were deliberately funny. Answers ranged from electrical, telephone and TV cables; to branches, roots and stems; to serpents, TMT bars and organizational charts!

But most of you knew the answer – yes, the picture showed water pipes, and yes such pipes, carrying water to individual houses, can be seen all over Thimphu.

“namgay”, “Tshewang” and “dodo” guessed that the picture of the water pipes was taken in Hejo, Langjuphakha and Taba respectively. The picture was actually taken above the “RICB Colony”.

The pipes – I counted about 150 of them – are installed and maintained privately, and carry water from a small stream to the houses below. I was told that some of them deliver water houses in distant Changzmatog!

The pipes are there because Thimphu City Corporation’s water supply is woefully inadequate and unreliable.

Thimphu has sufficient water. The Wangchhu and its many streams provide more than enough water for the entire valley. But that water must be tapped and distributed efficiently. And that is something we have not been able to do.

So Thimphu’s new mayor – whoever should win the elections tomorrow – has his work cut out for him. The mayor will be expected to improve and expand the capital’s water supply system: to ensure that inhabitants get more than a few hours of running water each day; to remove the need for the water tanks that sit on top of every building; and to make the ubiquitous private pipes redundant.

By the way, the winner of “Big picture – 10” is “namgay” who answered: “Thats a Bundle of Polythene pipes la…conveying water i guess.. common see in places like hejo…”

The picture wasn’t taken in Hejo, but like “namgay” says, the pipes are a common sight in Thimphu.

“namgay”: please contact me by email to claim your prize.

More pipes

Our health is in our hands

A powerful team

It’s the tourist season. And at mealtimes, tourists across our country – in restaurants and in dining tents – will regard, with some amusement, their guides roll and set aside small balls of rice.

“Bhutanese way of washing hand!” our guides will declare referring to their pre-meal rituals. Some of the tourists will, as always, give it a try, and end up, as always, with streaks of black starch on their hands. The other tourists will laugh. And the guides will attempt to explain how we, Bhutanese, “dry clean” our hands.

This traditional way of “washing” our hands may generate some fun. But it can be very problematic too. The Ministry of Health has identified the common cold and diarrhoea as the top two diseases infecting our people. And both of them spread easily when hands are not washed properly and regularly. Last year, hospitals around the country treated more than 300,000 incidences of the common cold and more than 92,000 incidences of diarrhoea and dysentery. Tragically many children, especially those below five, still succumb to these diseases.

Health experts say that washing hands with soap reduces the incidence of diarrheal diseases by half, and acute respiratory infections by 25%. That’s a huge reduction in needless suffering, one that we could very easily profit from. Just think about it: the simple act of washing our hands with soap – especially before eating or after using the toilet – can improve the quality of our lives immeasurably. It can also prevent many unnecessary premature deaths. But that’s not all: washing hands with soap can also fight the spread of many skin infections, other respiratory diseases,  intestinal worms and numerous other infections.

Yes, we could continue “washing” our hands with rice. But, let’s do so only after we’ve first washed them with soap.

Today, October 15th, is Global Handwashing Day!

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.