Pemagatshel is one Dzongkhag which has a major water issue. People have to carry water on their backs from a small stream nearby and walk a distance. Issues of water shortage have a negative impact on farming and in maintaining proper sanitation.
The settlements in Pemagatshel are mostly on top of the hills but since all the watershed areas are being affected the only available water sources are down in the valley. There were water sources in the hills but with time they are drying up leading to decrease in volume of water each year.
The Pemagatshel Dzongda Phuntsho said that Gewogs like Zobel, Shumar, some part of Dechhenling and Chhimong have an acute water shortage. He said the water issue at Layshingri under Dechhenling gewog is still an issue and they were not able to address it as of now.
Likewise, Shali, Gamung and Gonpung under Shumar gewog have water issues and it is becoming challenging every year.
He said, “It’s not that we do not have water. During summer and spring season the water sources dry up causing a severe water crisis. We are rain water dependent and we try to extend and preserve traditional water sources.”
In addition, he also said that to address the issue they are trying to preserve and protect watershed areas whereby they don’t allow any development construction.
He also said that government has drinking water flagship program and since the Dzongkhag has a major water issue, they have included a comprehensive report in the flagship program, adding that, “We are hoping to address the issue in 12th FYP.”
For now, the water is supplied through a water pumping system where most of them have to be brought from a lower valley up towards the hill.
Meanwhile, Pema Dorji, Zobel Gup said that Zobel has an acute water shortage and each year water sources are drying up making it difficult for them to address the issue.
He said that 75 households under Zobel, Nangmalang Zorjuk, Chungkhar, Langkhar and Daza Chiwogs are having hard time due to a severe water crisis. There are water taps constructed in every household; however there is no water supply. They have tried every possible way to address the issue but they failed.
“We have started a project in Khonmari whereby we constructed a reservoir tank. We could somehow address the issue but we cannot rely on the pumping system as it gives problem quite often and dealing with the pumping system is quite challenging”, he said.
He said that the reservoir tank in Khonmari also supplies water to Shumar gewog and it takes two days to fill the whole tank and after that they redistribute the water in two gewogs, turn-wise.
“If redistributed to both the gewog at same time, water won’t be sufficient. People now know better about sanitation and hygiene and for that matter, the amount of water they get from the tank is not sufficient,” he added.
Due to water crisis, farmers get discouraged in agriculture sector and they leave their land fallow.
He said that people have now started collecting summer rain in a sintex tanks and it has been useful. “For water harvesting purpose, with a fund support from European Union (EU), we have constructed 12 reservoir tanks (18,000 to 20,000 liter) in last financial year, 2018-2019 at Pangkhandaza”, he said.
In the coming financial year, they are targeting to construct another 20 tanks. They also have a plan to distribute a bigger sintex tank to every household in 2021-2022 fiscal year or to construct a reservoir tank with higher capacity.
“With all this, they are hoping that it would be a success, addressing acute water issue in the gewog. The government has been supportive always,” he said.
Shumar Gup Sangay Chophel said that Gonpung, Gamung and Shali are Chiwogs who have a severe water problem under the gewog. Drying up of sources is one main reason, he said, adding that they are trying to preserve the existing water sources.
He said, “Though water is being redistributed from Khonmari reservoir tank, people in Shumar are not benefited. People collect water from a nearby small stream and make their living that way. I don’t until when they can do that.”
In summer last year, when people faced acute water shortage, the gewog requested the Dzongkhag which supplied water through water tankers twice a week and it went on for two months. “However, this cannot be asked for every year,” he said.
He said that few weeks ago, an official from the Ministry visited the gewog and said that they would come up with project to address the issue. They also said that they would prioritize Shumar gewog and would start the project at the earliest. It is included in 12th FYP.
He said, “No reservoir tank is being constructed by gewog, but people constructed a small tank of their own and store summer rain.”
Dechhenling Gup Sonam Rinchen said that though they have a water crisis they are at the verge of addressing water crisis in the gewog with different measures.
He said, “Around 183 households under Gonpong chiwog have acute water shortage for longer period of time. However, we have managed to somehow solve the issue in 2018-2019 fiscal year.”
Around 17 households under Layshingri also have an acute water shortage. “Though settlement in Layshingri is on top of a hill, they do not stay up, they move down to Tingsirbi which close to a stream. People carry water in a container on their back from stream till their house.”
To overcome this issue, he said that they got Nu 2.5 mn through Small Development Project (SDP), GoI funded. They will be installing a mini-water pump and through this, they hope to address water issue in Layshingri and to bring back people to their settlement in Layshingri.
He said, “Water crisis has a negative impact on farming and people get discouraged. People stay in village just for orange cultivation. Otherwise they may choose to leave the village for good.”
Dorji from Zobel said that water has been always an issue to them whereby they get discouraged from doing anything. “With the little amount of water we get, we cannot do anything and can just take care of our house chores. Even when we want to get into farming we have the fear of not getting anything after so much effort,” he said.
Sangchu from Shumar said that they sometime want to migrate when they have an acute water shortage as it makes life hard. Water is very precious to them, she said.
“The Dzongkhag and gewog have done a lot but the water source itself is drying up and there is nothing much they can do. Water from the tank is not sufficient at all. We sold our cattle as we were not able to take a good care of it. Giving up on farming is another option,” she said.
Tashi Phuntsho, Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer said that people do get discouraged in farming sector; however, there are crops which are not water intensive.
“The main crop in Pemagatshel is maize which is not very water dependent and maize cultivation does not have much issues on irrigation as it is rain water dependent. The Dzongkhag is however, focusing on irrigation and rehabilitation of rice fields,” he added.
He also said that they are also concentrating on fruits cultivation which is not water intensive. For now, their major focus is on mango, litchi, avocado and pineapple and they are planning to do it in an extensive way.
This way, he said, “We can help people in income generation and keep them in the farming business even with a water crisis. Fruits have a larger market.”
For irrigation purpose, they are trying water harvesting at both the household and community level through Commercial Agriculture Resilient Rural Livelihood Enhancement Project (CARRLEP). They are promoting water efficient technology or climate smart agriculture system.
The forest division under Dzongkhag has conducted a survey on drinking water sources in 11 gewogs and they have identified all the sources. All the mapping is done and if there is no degradation in all the water sources, the water issue in Pemagatshel could be addressed one day.
This story is published under the Content Grant Scheme of the Department of Information and Media, MoIC.