The access to improved drinking water has increased to 98.6 percent in 2017 as compared to 84.5 percent in 2005. The access, however, does not mean assurance to safe drinking water as some 2,231 households still depend on unreliable and unimproved drinking water sources, such as unprotected well, spring, rivers, streams, lake, pond, or dam as their main source of drinking water.
Drinking and irrigation water shortages have been one of the growing challenges over the years. About one-fifth of the total households, which numbers to 29,973 households, still lack reliable water supply as per the 2017 report of population and housing census of Bhutan.
Poor water distribution networks with the lack of proper regulation and enforcement are the causes for the problem.
Therefore, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), in its manifesto, outlined that it will address the water needs of every Bhutanese, ensuring availability to all within three years of their tenure.
“It is an irony that there is an acute shortage of water, primarily drinking and irrigation, in the communities despite abundance at the drainage basin,” stated the manifesto presenting a statistic that in the currently Bhutan has one of the highest availability of water per capita in the region, reading at 109,000 cubic meters.
The government elect will place dedicated agency to manage water distribution and map out all water sources for proper management of water. DNT states, “We will explore conversion of wet land to dry land, in cases where there are absolutely no water source for agriculture purposes. We will protect watersheds and sources to sustain water supply.”
While the water availability varies and subsequent challenges depend on geographical and climatic conditions, the manifesto pointed out that Thimphu’s water woes resounds from poor management of water and apathy on the government’s part to address it, especiallywhen Thimphu produces more than 20,036 cubic meters of water every day while the requirement is 19,287 cubic meters only.
The manifesto pointed out that such issues and challenges have restricted the country from achieving self-sufficiency, food security, nutritional development and income generation by farmers. “On the other side, while the country aim at achieving food security by increasing the production of cereals, especially rice, the effort has been mired with many challenges, including lack of adequate irrigation water”. “This has restricted the country from achieving self- sufficiency, nutritional improvement and income generation by the farmers”.
Upholding the recommendation in the integrated water management plan of 2016, the government elect would adopt and include water security as a national key result area (NKRA) in the 12th FYP giving utmost importance to water security by including it as an important objective in the 12th FYP. “We will make necessary investments and allocate required funds to ensure successful implementation.”
The agency to manage water resources and related functions will review and implement the National Integrated Water Management Plan 2016 and the River Basin Management Plan for ensuring equitable water distribution and sustainability of water resources. The autonomous water management agency will report to the Prime Minister. It will function under the Board of Directors and work closely with all other stakeholders to ensure that adequate water for all is achieved by 2021.
The agency will work and coordinate closely with the dzongkhags and local governments to construct water reservoirs and distribution systems that will provide storage for adequate and equitable water supply to every household. Alternate sources such as bore wells, bore tubes and water pumps would be explored in communities that are deprived of water sources. If not, migration to more suitable land would be considered.
The government elect, in its manifesto, also ensures that all thromdes and urban areas have 100 percent access to adequate drinking water. It will assist the thromdes in building capacity and aligning rules, regulations and policies to make water equitable, adequate and available for all. “As per the revised water distribution plan of each thromde and urban areas, we will prioritise and provide additional funds to ensure that infrastructures such as distribution systems and reservoirs are constructed and developed”.
In partnership with the Royal Center for Disease Control, mechanisms will be put in place to monitor water sources, reservoirs and distribution systems on a regular interval. “We will build capacity of local governments and communities to take care of their water sources”.
The government elect also aims to strengthen and provide adequate irrigation water. “Just as drinking water, we will survey and map all water sources for irrigation purposes and categorize agricultural land according to water availability”. Adequate funds would be allotted to develop irrigation channels wherever necessary and ensure that irrigation water is equitably distributed.
Different irrigation systems and methods depending on crop varieties to enhance productivity levels would be explored while it would work with National Land Commission to enable land substitution or allow conversion of wet land to dry land in cases where there are absolutely no water source for agriculture purposes.
The government elect also commits to ensure uninterrupted water supply for all. “We will provide adequate resources for research and investment in latest technologies to harvest ground water and rain water”.
The national climate change adaptation strategy will be further strengthened by fostering public private partnership for enhancing the sustainable water resource utilization. For that the government elect commits to ensure conservation, protection and management of water catchment areas.It states, “All the critical water shed areas and sources of water will be identified and protected while all stakeholders will be involved in the decision making process to enable more advocacy and generate greater ownership over the protection and sustainability of the water sources”.