‘Lies, damn lies and statistics,’ is a saying that would be apt to the supposedly high coverage of drinking water in urban and rural areas in figures shared by government agencies both in the Dzongkhags and in Thimphu.
The new government should carry out a detailed and honest assessment of the drinking and irrigation water situation with a multi¬sectoral team to avoid conflict of interest and get the real ground picture. It is obvious that if agencies who are supposed to provide the very services carry out a study then it would be far from accurate.
Many of the supposedly connected villages and households have dry taps and non-existent Water Supply Schemes which are supposed to be gushing with water on paper.
Bhutan today is a facing a national drinking and irrigation water crisis. The former government did not take issue gravely enough which could be seen from the smaller budget allocated to drinking and irrigation water schemes.
This is in the face of global warming crisis where several traditional streams are drying up or becoming smaller. The fact that there no proper studies to even find out the causes of drying and shrinking of streams on which the majority of our population depends for drinking and agriculture is appalling. This is also apparent in government agencies allowing logging and mining activities in watershed areas and near drinking water sources.
It is clear that the change in approach must come from the very top where the government must take full ownership and start formulating policies and programs on solving the water
crisis. It will no longer do to leave water issues to local communities to manage as the problems are far beyond their scope or capacity.
Even with all the global warming problems Bhutan is still a very water rich country and the way forward is to manage the existing resources that we have in the best possible manner. One example is to implement the Water Act to ensure that water rich communities share water sources and resources with their less fortunate neighbors.
There is also a need to allocate more budget and ensure that both urban water supply and rural water supply schemes are more robust then what they are now. In rural areas a water supply system stops functioning after a few months or years due to poor quality construction, poor planning and monitoring. Dzongkhag engineers need to be better trained and equipped.
The new government should take up the issue of drinking and irrigation water supply on a war footing and go all out or the alternative would be disastrous for the country and its citizens.
Opinion by T. Phuntsho