KASpaces Ambassadors Interview Series on Sustainable Cities & Resilient Communities
Could you please tell us a few best practices from the City of Thimphu which has contributed towards the acceleration in the achievement of SDGs?
The overarching plans and policies are in line with the concept Gross National Happiness (GNH) which calls for sustainable and equitable socio-economic development balanced with cultural preservation and environmental conservation through promotion of good governance which in essence is no different from the SDG concept. While it’s difficult to pin point the SDGs in the Local Government activities, the essence is captured in all aspects of services delivered by Thimphu Thromde (Municipality).
A lot of the fundamentals are implemented through a concept of walkable neighbourhooods (Local Area Plan spatial coverage) whereby limited resources are optimized for maximum benefit. These are facilitated with various service centers for accessibility and promoting healthy lifestyles. Amongst the various services, I would like to highlight a few that stands out as a best practice till date.
The office is responsible for construction, up gradation and extension of schools as well as carry out assessment and monitoring for quality assurance. Softer aspects like health & wellbeing, special & inclusive education programs are integrated to promote wholesome education. ECCD services are provided to several government, private, informal settlements including 1 for special needs children. To promote literacy and employment, Non Formal Education and Community Learning Centres (Skills development services) are established. Continuing education program is another initiative for in-service people who could not continue their education initially. A library at the centre of the city allows the residents to encourage children to read. Students are facilitated with concessions while using city bus service. This reduces traffic during peak hours and also gives cheaper expenses for students living in the peripheral areas especially the low income group who cannot afford high rents in the city centres.
Primary Health Care (PHC) and neighbourhood clinics are constructed in specific neighbourhoods to provide services. Timely health screening, awareness and vaccination programs are conducted to promote healthy living. Special considerations are given to create awareness on non-communicable disease caused by sedentary lifestyles. Interventions are provided through establishment of open gyms, parks, cycling tracks and walkways around the city and providing services at walkable distances as an alternative to driving. The open gyms were installed with support from the Ministry of Health and regular maintenances are being carried out by the Thromde.
The construction of several vegetable and handicraft markets gives economic opportunity to market local products for the sellers. Rehabilitation and reintegration of recovered addicts into society by giving them cafeterias in the parks and providing an earning opportunity. Permitting time bound entertainment shows and exhibitions at identified locations are another way that the Thromde create opportunities for the public to generate income.
Waste management has caught international attention due to the implications it has on the environment. The Thromde has been promoting waste segregation at source through rigorous public advocacy and penalties. Waste collection frequencies are worked out based on densities and precinct uses. Dense areas are serviced with high frequencies and while areas with less frequencies are provide with Waste Drop-off Centers within walkable distances in the neighbourhoods. We have constructed 9 such centres all across the city. The waste collected by the garbage trucks are further transferred to the Material Recovery Facilities (MRF) for further segregation of reusable and recyclable waste before disposing the rest to the landfill. In line with the National mission, to make Bhutan free of waste, the “Zero Waste Hour” initiative was introduced to create public awareness. A 1 hour cleaning program is conducted monthly by calling on volunteers from all government organizations along with the public. The mission is led by Department of Environment and Climate Change which is the secretariat to the National Environment Commission with a theme “My Waste, My Responsibility”.
Construction of low income housing. Thimphu City has already constructed 38 units of low income housing. This housing initiative is mainly for the low income groups of Thromde employees who are forced to live in informal settlements. These areas are also facilitated with ECCDs to take care of children while parents are at work. In the coming years, more units of low income housing will be constructed to relocated all the informal settlements and provide them with decent dwelling units. Additionally, other low income residents who lives in the peripheral areas due to affordability problems are connected by city bus services which enables them to commute to the workplace. The bus service also extends to some settlements outside the municipality depending on the ridership thresh hold.
In the recent years, major focus has been geared towards improving public transport system. Double lane roads have been constructed, more bus shelters, terminals and depot has been constructed and additional city buses equipped modern features like gps and automatic bus location announcement systems. E-ticketing system has been instituted for the convenience of the commuters. Going forward, a dedicated lane for the buses will be piloted and Thimphu City is now is exploring fund support for the e-City buses. The Bhutan Green Transport Project has been initiated and based on the fund availability; the project will be implemented in the coming 13th Five Year Plan. This is mainly done to increase the public transport ridership and to do away with one man driving one car on the street
Providing clean, safe and reliable drinking water supply to the residents is a work in progress. Currently, only the 80% of the population receive the safe (treated water supply) and rests are dependent on the community water supply scheme. The Thromde aims to provide 100% clean and safe drinking water to the residents. However, there are several ongoing water projects namely the “National Water Flagship Program” and under Transformation Initiatives programs. Once these projects are completed, whole population will be provided with treated water.
The Thromde has achieved 100% coverage in the topographically feasible areas with sewer network. Areas with challenging topography are serviced by vacuum tankers, however, alternative solutions are being explored to connect these areas to a sewer network. In areas of informal or temporary settlements strict monitoring is carried out by sanitary inspectors to ensure sanitary standards are maintained.
Various greening initiatives are undertaken like the “Micro-gardening- Thimphu City”. Any agency or an organization willing to adopt certain areas within their premises and develop into parks and flower gardens are being encouraged. This initiative helps maintain the area clean preventing illegal waste dumping and at the same time maintain the greenery. The “Open space development - Thimphu City” is undertaken to develop of open spaces into recreational areas. These spaces are no development zones and are developed into beautiful parks with the plantation of flowers and trees. This also contributes to the well-being of urban residents. River front development is a project in pipeline. The project mainly aims to develop the buffer area along the Wangchu River which flows right through the City. The project components include plantation of flood resistant trees, development of recreational spaces and construction of flood protection walls.
From a safety perspective, areas with unstable slopes resulting from road cutting are mitigated with a hybrid treatment of grouted anchor bolts, gabion walls and biotic soil media. This prevents landslides as well as enable greening through vegetation growth. On the other hand safety of the residents from crime is ensured through strict regulations on precinct uses whereby activities like night clubs, snooker, bars are permitted only in certain areas where police vigil is higher.
How interdependent the local governments are on the national government for policy making for the achievements of the SDGs.
The interdependence is critical for the overall functioning of systems whether it’s the national government on local or the other way round. While the former sets the vision at a national context, the latter has to translate these into the real world for realization. It is therefore critical to have extensive dialogues to understand the local level real world issues as well as the national objectives with clarity.
To achieve clarity, focus must be given on outlining the core mandates of the national government as well as the local governments. This would be instrumental in identifying the resource requirements i.e. budgetary, equipment, human resource, skills etc. or assigning roles and responsibilities.
Once these interventions are in place, a planned and proper systems would create an enabling environment to prioritize and highlight the SDGs that requires attention.
How do you get the people to support your policies in the achievement of the SDGs?
The overall needs of the country results in policies being formulated by the national government. These policies are materialized as interventions which then pass through rigorous environmental screening. These are ultimately handed over to the Local Governments as projects for implementation. The process of seeking consensus of minimum 2/3 majority translates into project ownership. Due to the inclusive nature of the project, prioritization, impact and benefit is automatically ensured.
Bhutan is the world's first carbon-negative country. Any lessons for your South Asian neighbors or for the world in general?
A “carbon-negative country”, a term that has become synonymous to “Bhutan”, this gives us, Bhutanese, so much pride and joy. Along with it the image Bhutanese landscape speckled with eye-pleasing hamlets with traditional houses and farmland immediately comes to our mind. The landscapes as we know gives an indication of the livelihood of the people. On the other hand, there is also a Bhutanese aspiration to enjoy the economic opportunities and comforts of a developed country.
For a GNH country promoting balanced growth, the scales have tipped towards the negative on the carbon emmission scale, an indication of the sacrifices the Bhutanese people to control climate change. Due to the sheer size of Bhutan, it has no significant impact on climate change and despite the sacrifices, Bhutanese still suffers the adverse effect of climate change which makes it doubly taxing for us at the grassroots level.
I, as a concerned citizen of this planet, would like to call for similar efforts from countries all over the world to promote balanced development and adopt the concept of “Gross National Happiness” and work towards a “Gross International Happiness” to have real result. The Bhutanese would be much happier with a “Carbon-neutral world” than with a “Carbon-negative Country” whereby benefit would trickle down from the world to the individual countries.