Bhutan launches USD 8.9 million water project for Gasa, Punakha and Tsirang

MoIT Minister said around Nu 5 billion in water projects completed so far

Bhutan has embarked on USD 8.9 million initiative to combat the growing threats of water scarcity and declining water quality attributed to climate change. The project is called Advancing Climate Resilience of the Water Sector in Bhutan (ACREWAS), and the tenders are likely to begin in November 2023 and March 2024.

The five-year project, named “Advancing Climate Resilience of the Water Sector in Bhutan” is set to have a positive impact on more than 37,000 residents residing in the climatically vulnerable regions of Gasa, Punakha and Tsirang.

ACREWAS asserts a multi-layered approach aimed at enhancing climate resilience within the Bhutanese water sector, and intends to rejuvenate and efficiently manage water catchment areas, vital for sustaining water sources.

“The project is aimed at the three dzongkhags because there are already many schemes under other dzongkhags to support them with many projects across Bhutan. Aside from them, these three dzongkhags faced financial restrictions that prevented projects from being undertaken. Therefore, the ACREWAS initiative aims to support projects there, according to our research,” said Dorji Tshering, Minister of Infrastructure and Transport (MoIT).

ACREWAS will introduce innovative agricultural practices and livelihoods designed to withstand the challenges posed by a changing climate. Emphasis will be placed on fortifying the resilience of water and irrigation infrastructure against climate-induced stressors.

MoIT Minister said, “Knowledge transfer and climate-resilient infrastructure will be incorporated. We shall take care of the water catchment regions by safeguarding the vegetation and avoiding deterioration, and forest fires through working together and educating people.”

He said that the payment for environmental services introduced in the project is not finalized as the project is under study.

Further, to ensure a coordinated response, the project seeks to harmonize national and local policies concerning climate-resilient water resource management. Capacity building strengthening the capacity of governmental and community-based institutions to manage water resources efficiently, innovatively, and sustainably is a pivotal component.

Since climate projections for Bhutan indicate rising temperatures, resulting in severe heatwaves and prolonged droughts. Swift shifts in temperature and rainfall are disrupting agriculture and local ecosystems. Furthermore, the rapid glacier melt is elevating sea levels and causing regional instability. Bhutan has already witnessed more frequent and intense droughts, floods, and landslides, adversely impacting its economy and people’s livelihoods.

ACREWAS aligns seamlessly with Bhutan’s broader development agenda as well as key initiatives, such as the upcoming National Adaptation Plan and the Nationally Determined Contribution as part of the Paris Agreement.

The project’s success hinges on collaboration among a diverse range of stakeholders, including local communities, government bodies, civil society organizations, academia, and private sector entities involved in water distribution operations and maintenance.

Starting in Punakha and Tsirang in November of this year, the project is anticipated to begin in Gasa in March 2024. According to the minister, the weather is the reason for the project’s delayed start in Gasa.

The expected key outcome of the project is that nearly 19,391 individuals, with a substantial representation of women, will gain reliable access to irrigation and domestic water through infrastructure improvements.

Over 41,910 hectares of land will undergo restoration and be managed in a climate-resilient manner.

Approximately 38,518 hectares of watersheds will be restored and protected, safeguarding vital water sources.

A total of 3,392 hectares of agricultural land will embrace climate-resilient practices, including the adoption of cutting-edge climate-smart agricultural technologies. A modernization drive will see 74 kilometers of water transmission and distribution lines fortified and automated using the Internet of Things (IoT) and ICT-based technologies.

In addition to its tangible objectives, ACREWAS places a strong emphasis on knowledge dissemination and raising awareness regarding climate-resilient water resource management.

The ACREWAS project has received financial support from the Global Environment Facility’s Least Developed Countries Fund (GEF-LDCF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Apart from the ACREWAS project, the government has completed over Nu five billion worth of water projects in the country in the past five years. Which included drinking water, irrigation water, and integrated water projects.

Lyonpo said, “Now about eighty to ninety percent of the water problem is solved. However, it can be subjective with the increasing needs of the people.”

Bhutan’s ACREWAS and other climate resilient initiative serves as a testament to the nation’s unwavering commitment to safeguarding its environment, and ensuring the well-being of its citizens in the face of mounting climate challenges.

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