Making LoCAL Bridges: UNCDF helps to bridge the financial gap for climate change resilience in Phobjica valley
In Bhutan, the central government administrates its development activities through 20 Districts (Dzongkhags) that comprise 205 blocks (Gewoks). While key services like education and health are provided directly through the civil servants working in the schools and hospitals, for other tasks, at Gewok level, the administration works with agents of line ministries, for example in Agriculture, Forestry and Livestock. Over the last decade, new functions have been created particularly to respond to infrastructure development – and currently, the government is planning to appoint new staff – in particular there are talks to have systematically appointed district engineers.
This is due to the important needs for major infrastructure works. With its high and steep mountains, the country is a ‘logistical nightmare’ when it comes to providing access to services to rural populations. The challenge has become even greater due the changing climatic conditions that have brought more intense rains in the country. The impact is clear: landslides and erosion are putting all roads to the test, more frequently than in the past. This puts decades of development efforts at risks and slows the ongoing development progress. River-beds are also being affected, with sudden flash floods, increasing the danger for people.
To combat these climate changes, the government in collaboration with the LoCAL project have started to address the new emerging vulnerabilities. The new bridge in Phobjica (Wangdhue District) is a good example of this. A few kilometers away from the Phobjica valley, the habitat of the endangered black necked crane, lies a hamlet of a dozen of villages. They people have been used to growing turnips, mustard and recently started to grow potatoes – a climate resilient crop from which they can earn about 2000USD per year. But they started to have a big problem: the wooden log bridge system they were using was not sustainable anymore. Due to the more intense rains and sudden rise in water levels, the bridge that they would normally change every eight years was now being damaged almost every second year. Not only that but the water levels had risen to such heights that they sometimes could simply not use it anymore. The children could not go to school. The crops were also put at risk of rotting before being sold.
The Governor of the District, Mr Lhendup R. Wangchuk explains how the local project has helped to unlock local development aims: ‘The RNR had limited funds so the help of UNCDF was very important. In Phobjica, the communities had been asking for a bridge to help communities and school children get access to markets and schools. But the local funds were not sufficient so the construction had been put on stand by for many years. With the LoCAL project, the local government had the opportunity to kick-start the bridge construction. The local communities wanted to make a bridge at another location so that they could go and sell their agricultural produce. But we resisted that because we wanted to put the education of children first. Eventually we succeeded and this first bridge was made, helping the children get to school.’
In total over 175 children go to the school and over half of them need to use the bridge everyday. The bridge further serves a dozen of villages scattered on both sides of the river. The construction went through a competitive level process – It took 7 months and was supervised by an engineer and an assistant engineer, appointed specifically to supervise this work.
'I made the bridge 1.5 meters above the 2 meters level considered to be the highest level of the river. It is a very safe bridge and can withstand up to 24 tons - way more than what the trucks usually carry.' says Thinley Wangchuk, proudly standing on the bridge he helped to make. (see the video interview below for more details)
The LoCAL support has also helped the local government to better plan and address other needs with another development Partner: the UNCDF support for the bridge near the school, the District administration was plan additional support with JICA to provide a second bridge, some 2 km to the south of the new bridge, in order to further improve delivery of crops and agricultural products. This way both the farmers and the children could benefits from the top-up funding. The second bridge is being constructed for the moment and should be finished by mid 2014. For the moment, the bridge build with UNCDF support is the sole link between the left bank and the right bank.
As with other development activities, the local communities also contributed in the process. Each family volunteered 16 work days in the construction of drains that help to maintain the road on a distance of nearly 3 kilometers on one side of the bridge. The enbankments made by the villagers run for a total length of 1.5 kilometres. This has helped to maintain the road in a good condition, a much needed improvement since now, agricultural products are being delivered by trucks – many come from the other side of the mountain and currently use the bridge – made to withstand the heavy loads.