At the second Friday meet, the Prime Minister, in response to a question on the government’s pledge on drinking and irrigation water -turned to his right and asked the Agriculture Minister, “Did you brush your teeth and wash your face this morning,” and after getting an affirmative reply he asked the same question to the Foreign Minister who also said he did.
As a puzzled look passed around the two ministers and the journalists, the Prime Minister announced that his house did not have any water in the morning.
“There was no water in my house in the morning and so I had to brush my teeth and do my morning business in my office (bathroom),” said Lyonchhen.
Lyonchhen (Dr) Lotay Tshering said that if one starts reading the plan reports right from the 5th plan onwards, the reports always show that the drinking and irrigation water targets could not be achieved. He said that even in the 11th plan the drinking and irrigation water targets could not be met.
He said that if changes are not made then even by the end of the 12th plan the targets would again remain incomplete.
Lyonchhen said that the government would have a central coordinating agency for all water related issues as a flagship program.
“This agency would be equivalent to like people calling Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) when the electricity line is down,” said the PM.
“You can call this agency when there is no water,” added Lyonchhen.
This is not the first time though that water shortage has affected a Prime Minister.
The first Prime Minister, Dasho Jigmi Y. Thinley’s own residence above Babesa had drinking water issues around 2008 as the rural water supply scheme water in the area was not reliable and adequate and the household had to source water from an irrigation canal too.
The second Prime Minister Dasho Tshering Tobgay, when he was the Opposition leader, put up a picture of the crowded pipes taking water from a single source in the Taba area.
Dasho was a bit luckier in the sense that his late father’s land had a small private spring that he could draw water from while he was the PM for a more stable water supply.
The Prime Ministers are not alone as even other VVIPs have had to source their own reliable drinking water over the years.
The ground reality of even Bhutan’s VVIPs and VIPs not having assured and 24-hour supply of drinking water flies in the face of past claims and surveys by relevant agencies on achieving reliable drinking water coverage.
Climate change and its resultant impacts of drying and shrinking sources have led to even old schemes being defunct or not adequate.
The DNT’s own manifesto says, “The Five Year Plan documents and annual plans highlight importance of water management but setbacks emerge in implementation. Past governments have claimed more than 90 percent access to adequate drinking water, which is not even close to the ground picture.
The DNT Manifesto lists out a seven-point action plan to address the issue of drinking and irrigation water in Bhutan.
Apart from the plan to have a dedicated agency to manage water resources and related functions, the DNT manifesto promises to adopt and include water security as a national key result area (NKRA) in the 12th FYP.
The manifesto says it will ensure all thromdes and urban areas have 100 percent access to adequate drinking water and that there is uninterrupted water supply for all
It pledges to provide ensure safe and clean drinking water and also strengthen and provide adequate irrigation water.
It also promises to ensure conservation, protection and management of water catchment areas.
The Population and Housing Census of Bhutan (PHCB) 2017 says that though 98 percent of households have access to improved drinking water the reliability stands at 81 percent.
This 81 percent reliable drinking water is defined as water during important times like 5 am to 8 am, 11 am to 2 pm and 5 pm to 9 pm and that which is adequate for washing and cooking.
In 2017, one-fifth of the households which is 29,973 households lacked reliable water supply.
In absolute numbers, Thimphu and Chukha Dzongkhags have the highest households without reliable water supply with 4,591 households and 2,761 households respectively.
About 1.6 percent of households still need to travel for 30 minutes or more to the nearest water sources.
Meanwhile the Thimphu Thromde said that they did not receive any official complaint on the issue of there being no water in the PM’s house. They said that a direct line from the Thromde tanks is supposed to give 24/7 water in the PM’s residence. A thromde official said that there may a leakage in the line or some other internal pipe issues.
Coming to Thimphu itself, there are large areas that suffer from chronic shortages of water and this is only set to get worse with a huge construction boom with residential buildings, hotels, offices and others coming up all over Thimphu.
Thimphu has pinned its hope on water coming from a Dodena pipeline as part of its Nu 400 mn and 10 million liters a day, Central Water Supply Scheme (CWSS) to solve its water woes and the Thimphu Thromde has promised 24/7 water for Thimphu once this line is through.
The project, was supposed to be complete by November 2018 but it has been shifted to next year.