Water wars

The deliberate sabotage of the water supply of six buildings in Mothithang, and the repeated sabotage of water supply of one building brings to the fore the issue of water conflict in Bhutan.

We Bhutanese like to pride ourselves on a great sense of community spirit, which implies an ability to cooperate and help each other in difficult times. This saying holds good on most occasions, but except when it comes to water shortages.

To put it in context water conflict has always been a part of Bhutanese local history. Even today there are entire villages that get drinking water as compensation for some death in the past in their village over water conflict with a neighboring village.

This is because while water is always a sensitive issue it is all the more precious in a landscape where small streams do the overwhelming majority of the irrigation,and again people depend on the same streams for drinking and other purposes.

Given ever growing demand for a shrinking resource in large part due to climate change, conflict will be inevitable if major steps and decisions are not taken from now.

In the past conflict was inevitable as the landscape was not conducive to take water over great distances and store them in large quantities.

However, in today’s Bhutan we have both the technology and resources to deal with water shortages and also transport it over great distances.

In reality compared to other countries Bhutan is still a largely water surplus country, but we have not done enough to preserve and share it well among ourselves.

It is interesting to see that though water is one of our most important needs and issues, it along with sanitation comes way down the priority ladder.

Successive budgets over the years itself shows the low priority accorded to drinking and irrigation water compared to other fancier projects on paper.

Thimphu is the capital city and is supposed to have the best of everything, but a closer look at our water storage and distribution systems would really make one wonder. At times there is water shortage while at other times many parts of Thimphu get muddy water.

Bhutan has a 2011 Water Act in place that addresses a lot of issues like water sharing among communities among other things, but the Act lies unimplemented.

It time for our leaders and policy makers to take note that unless big and quick steps are not taken, Bhutan is headed for a future of water wars among buildings, villages, houses and communities. The time to act is now.


“Water, water, everywhere,Nor any drop to drink.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge


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