How people of Khengkhar and Jurmed gewogs in Mongar are coping with water shortage

The villagers in Jurmed and Kengkhar gewogs in Mongar have been facing acute water shortage for many years. There is no steady source of water supply to the gewogs, and so the villagers have to resort to using water pumps to draw in the water, which is not enough for drinking, cooking and washing, and therefore, they also harvest rainwater.

Khengkhar Gewog

Deki Wangzom, 47, from Khengkhar gewog said that water shortage has existed for a long time and continues to be a problem.

“Tarayana Foundation constructed a tank for us for storing water. The water is being pumped from the source, which is located below the tank. Rainwater is collected and utilized for washing. The rainwater stored is just enough for two to three months. We walk down to the source to wash our clothes. The water source is in the forest, therefore we must walk there,” she said.

During the winter, the water source dries up, and then she fetches water from a distant location by transporting the filled water barrel in a vehicle.

Leki Zangmo, 21, who runs a grocery shop also shared that the villagers store water in the Syntax water tanks for drinking and washing purposes.

The villagers get water for just four hours a day, three times a week. She stated that the larger the family, the more water is required, however, with the current water supply, the quantity is not sufficient.

“We are unable to keep the hygiene that we should as women. We’re somehow managing and maintaining ourselves. Water is insufficient, particularly during ritual times. If only it rains, the water suffices. The water deficit decreases in the summer, but we suffer in the winter,” she said.

Sangay Wangchuk from Nanirik chiwog in Khengkhar stated that the water issue has been around for a long time, but in comparison to the past, the situation has improved slightly due to government efforts. However, it has not addressed the issue completely.

He explained that households in the upper region of the valley are experiencing more difficulties than those in the lower valley.

“During the summer, we keep rainwater stored in barrels which has been provided by the gewog, and Tarayana Foundation has also built the tank for us to store water,” he said.

As electricity is required to run the water pumps, the villagers have to pool in the money to pay the electricity bills.

“Because the villagers pay the water pumping electric charge, we are afraid to use it every day because of the electricity bill, therefore, we are managing and have set a schedule. We are unable to maintain hygiene as recommended by health experts,” he said.

He added that due to water shortage, the villagers can only cultivate radish and potatoes, but not other vegetables like cabbage and cauliflower.

“Radish and potato don’t need much water to grow. If there is water, we can undertake vegetable cultivation and become self-sufficient,” he added.

Khengkhar Gewog Gup, Pema Chodup, also shared that they attempted to mitigate the situation by shielding the watersheds, but it didn’t work.

“Water sources have dried up as a result of climate change. We attempted to adjust by harvesting rainwater. However, we can only harvest if it rains. Water pumps have also been erected. However, we were unable to address it completely, but we are coping up,” he said.

To collect rainwater, the government has installed gutters and pumps in dwellings. To assist them further, the gewog gave them with cement and let them to construct a water tank, which villagers did.

He said that they have water-timing basis for villagers and the school. On Mondays, they supply water to the villages for four hours. The school receives four hours of water on Saturdays. There are two pump stations.

He mentioned that according to the experts, their settlement is situated on the top hills, while water sources are located below the settlements.

Regarding maintaining hygiene and sanitation, he said that due to the COVID-19 the water timing has been extended.

“Because we are supposed to maintain our hygiene and water is required for washing our hands due to the COVID-19, we adjusted our water time from 3 hours to 4 hours so that we may atleast maintain hygiene,” he said.

Due to the water shortage, the gewog does not have farmers who are carrying out commercial farming in the upper valley farms, but they do have commercial farming groups and horticulture farmers in the lower valley farms.

At Khengkhar Middle Secondary School, a water pump is being built as a part of the Water Flagship Program. 90 percent of the work has been completed.

The Gup added, “People presently pay the electricity bill for pumping, but we have submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Education to at least cover the electricity charges for pumping for schools.”

The electricity bill for one pump comes around Nu 6,000 to Nu 7,000 a month. The gewog has two pump stations. In the gewog, there are 503 households and six chiwogs.

Jurmed Gewog

Dorji from Jurmed gewog stated that the water is insufficient since she must also feed water to her cattle.

She also stated that without water, sanitation is the most difficult issue. “There is not a single proper toilet in the entire hamlet,” she stated.

She asserted that because she does not have to cultivate paddy, she has not had to deal with the difficulty of irrigation, and that villagers rely only on rainfall because water gathered from water source through pumping and other tiny streams is insufficient.

Choezom, 68, also stated that because the gewog is experiencing a water deficit, it is extremely possible that youngsters would leave the village.

“Youth could abandon the village due to the water shortage.  Who wants to go fetch water from a long distance and deal with it every day?” she asked.

She went on to say that owing to the shortage of water, the people are unable to cultivate rice or vegetables.

“We do have small gardens but the productivity is quite minimal owing to the water shortage. Forget about running commercial business, it’s not even enough for oneself. We have to purchase vegetables,” she explained.

Gup of Jurmed Gewog, Rinchen Norbu, explained that they don’t know why the water sources have dried up because the problem has been there for a long time.

He stated that people-built dwellings up to the top, but the water supplies were below, so they had to collect water from below.

He said that in compared to the past, the situation has marginally improved as a result of the government providing individuals with the means to store water, making life simpler.

“We collect rainwater, which we then store and use for drinking and washing. We have no alternative except to fetch water from below in the winter, although rainwater collected throughout the summer is stored and is adequate for half of the winter season,” he said.

He added that many projects are coming up, so they are hoping that the water concerns will be handled, and the gewog will not experience the same problems as before.

He further explained that people who live far from the source must walk for over three hours to reach the water source. “However, some people’s living conditions have improved, and they now transport water in their vehicles and some purchase water,” he said.

He added that there is no problem for schools and BHU because they are located close to the water source.

Since the people in the gewog focus on maize cultivation, water is not much needed, and there are no commercial scale vegetable farms.

The gewog is also planning to provide Syntax water tanks to the people, and set aside around Nu 2.8 million budget for the coming fiscal year. There are 320 households in the gewog.

The story is funded by Bhutan Media Foundation’s project titled “Strengthening the Capacity of Bhutanese Media for Climate Change Reporting”, supported by Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.

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