A survey conducted by the Ministry of Health in July-August 2014 on the orders of the cabinet showed that 16.97 percent of rural households in Bhutan are not getting access to drinking water. The survey was conducted using Dzongkhag and Gewog officials.
This means that out of a total of 80,926 households in the country around 13,732 households do not get drinking water.
Of the 13,732 households 4,764 households (5.86%) are not covered by the Rural Water Supply Scheme (RWSS) at all while 8,986 (11.11%) households even though falling under RWSS does not get water.
While the report claims that 83.03 percent gets functional drinking water, it does not elaborate on the level of functionality in it, either being fully functional or partly functional.
Also, the surveys have been carried out by local government officials in the monsoon months of July and August when there is higher water flow across the country.
The former government in its annual state of the nation report for 2011 had claimed that the safe drinking water coverage had increased from 69 percent in 2008 to 94 percent in 2011. However, the report does acknowledge that an additional 1,048 schemes had been built at the time.
The report shows that the worst hit Dzongkhags with high drinking water problems in terms of water supply and infrastructure are Pemagatshel, Paro, Samdrup Jongkhar, Sarpang, Punakha and Trongsa.
The report said that the MoH would immediately take up field verification process for the above five Dzongkhags and also carry out the necessary interventions in coordination with the Dzongkhag administrations.
The study also shows that only 75.5 percent of rural households enjoy both a good functional water pipe and a tap stand.
The total number of supply lines exceeds the tap stands by over 2,702 which means that a supply line actually meant for one tap was also being tapped by others. The majority of the supply lines that exceeded the tap stands were found to be those dzongkhags with low functionality such as Sarpang with 1,489 and Paro with 532 extra supply lines respectively. In Sarpang it was found that the number had increased over the years due to increase in households through sub-division of land amongst the children. The report says the addition of new supply lines to a scheme is likely to have impact on the overall distribution of drinking water in a community unless proper assessment is undertaken prior to it.
Chief Engineer of the Public Health Engineering Division Rinchen Wangdi said, “One major problem with the RWSS is its maintenance as many local communities are not willing to take ownership of their projects and have become so dependent on the government that they expect the government to even carry out minor repairs.”
Out of 5,420 schemes that have been reported, only 2,824 schemes have caretakers. The report says that it is an indication that the remaining schemes do not have dedicated caretakers which could have serious implications in the long run in sustaining the functionality of the schemes.
On the other hand though some schemes have many caretakers it still has low functionality indicating the lowering volume of water and the need for better training which the report says is rarely carried out by Dzongkhags.
The numbers of water committees are even lower with only 1,569 in the country which according to the report is an indication that the community ownership of their water supply schemes is very poor. It says that after the decentralization of the rural water supply works to the dzongkhags; such programmed intervention measures are rarely implemented due to lack of resources in the Dzongkhags.
Lhuntse Dzongkhag (97.4%) has the highest proportion of households with good condition tap stands with supply lines followed by Gasa(95.9%) and Mongar (93.8%).
Irrespective of the flow of water 3,465 tap stands were found to be totally defunct. 6,448 tap stands while in good condition does not have running water. The study says that the feasibility to provide water supply connection to these tap stands will require further field studies. 5,076 tap stands has functional supply lines but requires either repair or new construction.
The findings from the study are to serve as a baseline for the Government to plan and aim to provide 24 into 7 safe drinking water to all the rural residents during the 11th five year plan.
Based on the findings from this study, PHED intends to coordinate with the Dzongkhags and Gewogs to find out the actual position of the un-covered households with possible reasons. It also plans to assist the Dzongkhags and Gewogs to find out alternative technologies to provide the remaining households which are not possible to supply water through conventional gravity fed system.
The PHED will also facilitate the Dzongkhags and Gewogs to assess the resources required to make the entire 57,739 tap stands functional and determine the reasons behind providing more number of supply line compared to tap stands.
The report says that the information was collected from the respective dzongkhags through their gewog administrators, tshogpas and village health workers as these people are the ones that best know the condition of the water supply infrastructures in their own jurisdiction. Guidelines were distributed and program officers from the Ministry were also sent to the dzongkhags to guide them.
However, there were time limitations in collecting the information from all the 205 gewogs and also entering the information received into the system that was developed to carry out simple analysis. Therefore, the division was not in a position to undertake field verification of the information with all the 20 dzongkhags and 205 gewogs.
Rinchen Wangdi, however, said that so far from the verification being carried there were very little or negligible differences from the surveys being carried out.
In an earlier interview the Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay admitted that both drinking and irrigation water were major issues and a lot needed to be done.
He said that after a count of water taps the health minister was alarmed with the number of non functional ones and so he has plans to construct and repair many such schemes.
The report, however, due to its limited time and mandate does not focus on the issue of the poor planning and quality of construction of the RWSS schemes that lead to their becoming defunct. Local communities across the country have been highlighting the need for better source identification, better technical inputs from Dzongkhag engineers and better quality of construction for RWSS to last beyond a few months or years.
The problem has also been attributed to shrinking water sources and refusal by some to share existing water sources.