Of 6,555 water sources in the country, 2,317 (35 percent) are drying up while 147 sources have dried up, a study by the Watershed Management Division of the forest department revealed.

Springwater (4,048) and streams (2,191) are major sources of drinking and irrigation water with lakes, rivers, ponds, and marshes contributing a negligible portion.

With the rapid drying of these sources due to changing climate, and Agriculture Research Specialist Mahesh Ghimirey, said that it could jeopardise the agriculture sector on which 69 percent of the rural population depend.

At the climate series last week, he said that severely affected dzongkhags like Samtse, Tsirang, Mongar, Wangdue, and Dagana need interventions to reverse or halt the process.

He said that Bhutan was economically water-stressed. “We have enough water resources with 94,500m3 per capita water availability, 500-6,000mm rainfall, and four major river basins but lack adequate infrastructure for use or management.”

To make water accessible for agricultural use, he said that the government needs to invest in irrigation development. The country currently has 1,361 irrigation schemes, with a channel length of 2,888km that has benefitted 57,266 households across the country.

The agriculture sector, however, continues to be gravely affected by the climate change impacts, according to the expert.

National Commission for Women and Children’s recent gender and climate change report stated that climate change increased challenges faced by the sector—crop production, livestock rearing and forest management and use—with loss of agrobiodiversity and agricultural land, and increase in human-wildlife conflicts, pests, and diseases.

Possible crop yield instability, loss of production and quality, decreased water availability for crop production, and increased risk of extinction of already threatened crop species are some of the visible impacts, the report stated.

Mahesh Ghimirey said that Bhutan had witnessed unusual outbreaks of pests and diseases like the rice blast epidemic of 1996 and the maize blight epidemic in 2007, erratic rainfall patterns, windstorms, hail storms, flash floods, landslides which is attributed to climate change.

“The rugged topography, diverse agro-ecology and rapid changes in environmental variability make us vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters,” he said.

He recommended ground interventions and actions, re-prioritisation of agriculture and water availability at the national level, increased investment in irrigation infrastructure and management, and the need to enhance the adaptive capacity of farmers to climate shocks.

By Choki Wangmo 

Edited by Tshering Palden