Thimphu valley's river of trash

By Dechen Yangzom

BHUTAN - The Thimphu river or Thimchu, as it is called, is gradually becoming Thimphu's largest natural dumpster.

A walk by the riverside is enough to see the state of the capital's river. Countless pet bottles, old cloth diapers and plastics line the riverbed all the way to Babesa from Lungtenzampa, although scrap hunters fish out metals.

This is a concern for a country relentlessly priding itself on its environment. Data collected by the National Environment Commission (NEC) in 2010 and 2011 show a high level of phosphorus in that stretch of river running through Pangrizampa, Chubachu, Lungtenzampa bridge, Olarongchu and Babesa. This high level of phosphorus means the river is heavily polluted.

Nitrogen levels are also at a peak at Chubachu, Lungtenzampa, the highway bridge, Olarongchu, and Babesa. The head of water resources, NEC, G Karma Chhopel explained, "It's a big river and, if you see this kind of a trend in a big river, it is alarming. If you can perceive all of these changes, it is dangerous."

However, when many people chuck their waste into the river, it's no surprise.

Earlier this week, a team of NEC research officials headed to the new Dechencholing town for their routine water tests. Two members of the team, without gloves or gumboots, dipped the multiparameter kit into the river. The river, which flowed from Tango unpolluted, met up here with numerous old shoes, clothes, flasks, boxes, tormas from pujas, hundreds of plastic, and then faecal waste.

Just a few seconds away from the end of the last test, one of the officials spotted a fresh looking faecal waste, progressively withered by the river currents, lying right next to them.

The team had to look for fresh water around the households and villages to clean their hands.

Officials from the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), who adopted streams that flow into the Thimchu, attribute the waste to a lack of civic sense among many.

"They continue to fling their waste along the ditches and streams, which ultimately lead to the river, and even straight into the river late at night when the city is not as eventful," said an official.

"Although this was immoral, it was understandable because people just can't keep the garbage at home, due to a lack in infrastructure and monitoring."

The booming construction in Thimphu is adding to the problem. Sand bags, plastics and other debris are dumped into the river. This, however, is not to be seen in our city.

According to chief urban planner, Meghraj Adhikari, while perceiving the Thimphu structure plan, there isn't supposed to be any construction along the river.

A "buffer" zone is supposed to be kept in order to have a Green Thimphu. Settlements can be allowed only 100ft/30m away from the river.

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