We have, finally, found a solution to the scarcity of water, both for drinking and agriculture. It is not in a new, advanced technology, but a renewed sense of urgency in finding solutions and knowing to make it work.
Bhutan comparatively is better off than many in the region in terms of water resources. The irony is that we have not been able to manage it. Water is a problem in the rural farming communities to towns and cities where shortage, for many reasons, is the common problem.
The solution has come in the form of the National Water Service projects, six of which have already started. The project executed by de-suung is yet another master stroke of His Majesty The King in not only ensuring water for the short term, but also securing the national resource for posterity.
In terms of building infrastructure, since its inception three months ago, the progress of the projects are impressive. There are six projects that have already started with hundreds of de-suups volunteering to live up to His Majesty’s aspirations. Two more will kick-start next month.
The National Service was created as an opportunity for Bhutanese youth to participate in nationwide projects that would benefit the people. Beyond ensuring reliable water supply, the projects that includes programmes like training youth in specialised water resource management, watershed conservation and technologies in water management provides the skills and know-how needed in agriculture that has come back into the limelight again, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic reminded us of the importance of growing our own food.
A big problem for water-rich Bhutan has been the shortage of water or drying sources. While at the policy level, water received priority, what happened at the ground had not lived up to the expectation of the people, both for drinking and irrigation. The focus had been on building infrastructure, but not conservation or ensuring reliable supply, for instance watershed management.
The pandemic made us realise that growing our own food is important even if we forgot that ensuring food security had been a national priority for decades since planned development began. There are many returning to the farms to make a livelihood. Agriculture, many realized, has good scope. But at the heart of all these opportunities is the water problem. Fallowing fields and therefore, rural to urban migration, joblessness and many more social ills are attributed to shortage of water or our failure to tap it. It is said that where there is water, there is life.
The De-suung water projects delivered by de-suups also indicate that Bhutanese can not only work, but also deliver if the conditions are right. We complain of youth not taking manual jobs, but from the hundreds of de-suups engaged in the projects, it is evident that with the right conditions like occupational safety standards, right attitude and respect for the jobs, Bhutanese youth would take up jobs that are filled by expatriate workers.
We have talked about skilling youth to take up available jobs, but we have not lived up to our promise. The De-suung national service has come at an opportune time to make this happen.