Monday, April 22, 2019

Bhutan's Construction Industry: Episode I : Drainage.

Now I am not an expert upon the drainage system and I totally sucked when I was in college, for in civil engineering, it is said that Water Resource Engineering and Fluid Mechanics were one of the toughest subjects to be studied. Even in my college, there were handful of Professors in this field, because when it comes for calculation pertaining to Water, it surely becomes a nightmare to engineering students.

We were told once by one of our Soil Mechanics Professors, that water might be boon to life, but it is a living nightmare to civil engineers. Any structure, that comes in contact with water, surely will be degraded with time. And in midst of all these chaos of not understanding much about water, I admire and envy Dutch and their persistence over their engineering to safeguard from floods.

Now when I write this article, I reckon it won't be a nice one for I am a very junior guy to comment or give suggestions - and it will remain the same for many bureaucrats while I do so. What we would say in Hindi : chooti moh, badi baat! 

In past, I have been involved with design of drainage system and just out of my sheer luck, I got involved with a project whereby I had to design drainage system for the entire town. It was Phuentsholing and I had to refer books, literature and standard codes. It would take me few months just to understand the job and finally, when we were done with Phuentsholing, the estimate was close to Nu. 1.39 Billion if the existing town of Phuenstholing wanted to scrape off their existing drains and build new ones. I was working as a consultant then.

Lately, the drainage system of Thimphu has been questioned much and a lot of folks have put it on social media, whereby they have raised their concerns about what should have been done? It is easy to comment upon things when it goes wrong, but I think it must have been hard for engineers as well. Firstly, because our engineers don't get any prior trainings but just get their first sites. Now, if these engineers are not curious, god bless their contractors! Not only will the projects suffer, there might be chances that these contractors as well, might go broke - with problems like cash flow, delay in decisions and of course, if the the drawings are not clear - seriously, bless these contractor almighty - for they will dance with the devil.

Secondly, engineers get less time to come up with designs and seek for budget. Once the budget has been allocated, we look at time lines of projects which are simply unrealistic, like say Nu. 160 Million project to be completed in 12 months or 18 months. You intend to spend either Nu. 13 Million or Nu. 8.8 million per month? Will it really be possible? But this has been few of the glitches that we have faced so far till date, and kudos to some of the contractors, who have completely done these projects timely, with manpower issues, cash flow issues and at times when funds are not available. We have a long way to go whereby our own planning will be done significantly. 

In order to design any drainage system, before we come up with drainage network and its capacity, we need to study our rainfall data thoroughly for a particular catchment area. After that, we have our options for how many years this particular drainage system should be designed? This can be analyzed and IDF (Intensity Duration Frequency) curve needs to be derived, which gives us an idea about the probability of how much rainfall will we have in next 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, 25 years, 50 years or 100 years. Now if you want to design a drainage system which should not give you troubles for next 100 years, then you will be designing for the highest probability of storm and rainfall for first one hour. If for 2 years, then it would be the lowest for first one hour, and it is all about an hour, because there is a reason behind it. There is this term called Time of Concentration, which simply means that it is the time taken for a single drop to travel from the most remotest place to the outlet of the entire network, so this factor actually defines your main drain capacity : of course, velocity, discharge and slope that needs to be maintained. 

What I have observed about us is that, we are not a rich nation and to come up with drainage system that works for next 100 years will be very expensive for us, and it is not the engineers who should be blamed, nor do we have any scapegoats in this deal. We can't blame anybody for our drains failing, because anything that is going to function well, will cost us more and we don't have that sort of money. However, in coming years, when our economy will pick up, we can come up with better drainage system. Even countries like England, Iran or Japan, had faced the same issues in the past, but with time, they have come up with Utilidors or Service Ducts whereby they have massive tunnels built underneath their cities and every utility ducts, storm water drains, fire fighting supply, water supply, gas, sewage network, etc., is accommodated. In our estimate, if we just tried to work out for Norzin Lam and if we just went on to built a massive service duct that would function well just for Norzin Lam and leaving out rest of the drainage networks, it would cost us minimum of Nu. 600 million, just for the service duct. We don't have that sort of money as of now, the only solution would be to work out our watershed system well, and play around with the discharge of our drains and connect our storm water drains to our natural streams. But this would as well pollute our streams, but then again, we can use few tie bars to collect solid wastes like plastics.

I think, we have a long way to go to have drainage system that would work, for both storm water and sewerage, but before we embark upon any of these projects, a thorough study needs to be done for our entire city : perhaps, few aspiring students can have this as their Final Year Projects from CST, because if we again float a tender for consultant, this will just be expensive for us. I am sure, there are a lot of hydrologist in our nation who think the same. And I am sure, many engineers must have already worked upon this before, just that I am not aware of. Maybe, digging holes time and again has made a lot of people impatient. This time, just to count the numbers of manholes. 

And as our construction industry is developing, in mere future, we will have better drainage system, and we will have lesser folks who will complain about our drainage system - we just need to give ourselves time. Because when I used to think about Wangdue Dzong having caught fire, the whole nation was outraged, that why didn't we have fire fighting system installed? But when a similar incident occurred in France recently, it just gave us a picture that even countries much ahead of us faced the same helplessness that we did, for it took them 400 firefighters and 15 hours to confine that incident. The comparison is made, not to feel better, but to relate how sorry both the nations felt for losing its centuries old monuments. 

With here, let me end my sermonizing article, which I am sure, of course, someone very senior might not like, for there might be some technical glitches, and I hope that you see beyond the glitches : I hope you see the common interest of doing things better - to develop and to do things once, but in a very nice way that we don't do it twice. 

Note: No confidential data are shared in this article. 


  1. My friend has more than enough time for writing up blogs... But, you know... Let it be...!! My friend knows anoab it...!

  2. I have been following your blog since 2012. Over the past several years i have have known whats happening to you through your write ups. There used to be time when i would check your blog frequently and when you didn't post for weeks i used to get pissed off. I know of how you used to have kinda a mini library at your place while you were in Bajo. Your acquaintance with Passu. I even know that the person who commented above is a friend from college. Like wise i know a lot of other blogger friends of yours like aue Phuntsho and his recent book. Monu Tamang and how he came up with his book while at college. Au Passu. Rekha Monger, ugyen gyeltshen hasn't been writing much. Au Yeshey Dorji always has something out of box to say. And i know a lot more bloggers. Its like a web of bloggers who kinda know each other. And i know about the time you broke your hand. About the time while in high school you drove around in your car. I know about your sketches.

    So its like watching a series where you are the central character. Well i thought i will just let you know about it all. I hope i dont sound creepy. Anyways its all from what you write. Keep writing.