Access is the problem for water abundant Bhutan

For a country that has not faced any critical water shortage, the idea of water scarcity appears to be abstract. But according to the specialists and consultants involved in drafting the Integrated Water Resources Management Plan (IWRMP) for the last 18 months have different things to say.

As per the draft of IWRMP that was presented for consultation by the National Environment Commission earlier this month, it is strategized based on the fact that water is finite and vulnerable resource, recognizing the need for a participatory approach in water management and that water has social and economic value.

Although Bhutan has no pressing water problems presently, the accessibility of water is seen as a challenge given the topology and scattered habitat. The other challenges are identified as Climate change which results in higher temperatures and more rainfall during the monsoon when water is already plenty which eventually results in a vague trend in the length of the lean season. The lack of data and high cost of delivery of stable water supply are among the other issues.

Robert Roostee who is an IWRM specialist, said that Bhutan might actually face challenges at a dual level. There are no serious water problems yet in the river basins or associated places. The coordination and integration of utilization of water is what is seen as a challenge.

However, water-related problems are acutely felt at local levels where communities living on the mountain slopes draw water from small sources which are often distant. These problems cannot be attended at the central or even basin level, and should be addressed at the level of Gewogs. Gewogs should, therefore, document water issues in their areas for investigation and mitigation.

Other than the fact that water might be unavailable, the data in draft provides an estimate of the likely increase in flow of the rivers like Wangchhu by 26%, Punatshangchhu by 7%, Mangdechhu by 38%, Drangmechhu by 38% etc which will result in more flood prone areas.

For more effective water utility and to sustain the available water the draft has formulated recommendations which include expanding irrigated areas, setting  up additional research and development center and a stoic support from the related agencies (Gross National Happiness Commission to adapt water security as a key result area from the 12th FYP).

Bhutan Water Security Index (BWSI) a web based index that provides an indication based on the five key dimensions ( Rural drinking water supply, economic water for agriculture, industries and hydropower, Urban drinking water supply, environmental water security, Disaster and Climate Change resilience) is also among the reforms for a sustainable water usage. BWSI is online software that provides a platform for the future industrialists or planners to calculate the water balance on a particular location for a resourceful usage.

National River Basin Modelling Specialist, Chimi Dorji said that the balance will determine if any kind of venture that requires large of amount of water is viable or not for the particular area.

It was also pointed out that most of the weather stations in Bhutan lay idle without any known reasons. As per the experts “It is essential to increase the number of weather and discharge monitoring stations and spreading them evenly throughout the country to support water management at smaller scale.”

The NIWRM is a product of various reports and exercises financed by the Asian Development Bank and Japan Fund with efforts from different agencies. The main volume includes the National Irrigation Master Plan, Hydrological Modeling and Water Resources Assessment Report, Institutional Strengthening Reports and an Irrigation Engineering Manual. The formal launch of the draft will be on March 22 coinciding with the World Water Day.


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