Chencho Dema

Wangdue—Angay Gyem, an 87-year-old resident of Phangyul in Wangdue, is excited about the upcoming transformation in her village. Once a desolate expanse known for barren land and severe water shortage, Phangyul is expected to become lush with greenery and vibrant paddy fields.

The transformation is made possible by a 38-kilometer pressurized piped irrigation scheme constructed under the project “Supporting Climate Resilience and Transformational Change in the Agriculture Sector in Bhutan (2020-2025), supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funded by Green Climate Fund.

The total contract amount for the project is Nu 550.99 million (USD 6.08M) with Nu 414.99 million funded by the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and Nu 136 million contributed by the Government.

Under one irrigation subproject, two irrigation systems were constructed – in Phangyul and Kazhi.

Agriculture Minister Younten Phuntsho inaugurates Phangyul irrigation scheme

At the inauguration of the scheme, Lyonpo Younten Phuntsho said it’s a historic day for Phangyul and Kazhi communities. “The irrigation scheme will not only boost livelihoods of the people in the two gewogs but also contribute towards boosting the country’s food and nutrition security, which is one of the key national priorities. I urge the community members to not leave your land fallow now that there is abundant water supply,’’ he said.

UNDP Resident Representative Mohammad Younus said today marks not just the inauguration of a mere irrigation scheme but a start of a new chapter in the lives of people in Phangyul and Kazhi gewogs. “The irrigation scheme has touched the lives of 2,485 people in the two gewogs, who for the first time in decades saw water finally arrive in their village. By helping irrigate 1,241 acres of land, the project will add close to 40% arable land to Wangdue district. For UNDP, this will remain a key milestone of our partnership with the Royal Government of Bhutan in recent years,’’ he added.

The climate-resilient irrigation scheme will benefit 285 households and 2,458 residents (1,255 female) in the two gewogs, helping to irrigate 1,241 acres of agricultural land in Phangyul and Kazhi gewogs.

Phangyul has endured acute water shortages for generations.

The Phangyul irrigation project extends over 27 kilometres, covering 1,000 acres of village area, which includes 659 acres of wetland and 341 acres of dry land. This initiative benefits a total of 210 households, involving a population of 1,957.

The Kazhi irrigation project covers an area of 11 kilometres, consisting of 241 acres of land, comprising 183 acres of wetland and 58 acres of dry land. It serves 75 households, accommodating a total population of 510 individuals, including 256 males and 245 females.

Project Manager of Climate Resilient Agriculture Project in Bhutan funded by the GCF, Sherub Gyeltshen, said that the objective of the irrigation was to solve the long-standing water crisis for the Phangyul, to improve the livelihoods of the smallholder farmers’ through climate resilient irrigation system in the face of changing climate.

During the initial design phase of the project, the Phangyul irrigation system was not included in the list under the support of the GCF but was later considered and added in 2019.

Angay Gyem reminisced about how the water scarcity had plagued her community since her youth. Despite this ongoing challenge, they had previously succeeded in cultivating paddy. However, as time passed, farming became progressively more challenging, ultimately resulting in the abandonment of the land, which lay barren and unused.

“This forced some villagers to leave their homes and move to town, leaving behind the fields they had once tilled with hope,” she said.

She said that whenever she visited neighbouring villages and witnessed fields adorned with vibrant greenery, she could only stand in silence, feeling a pang of sadness as she contrasted it with the desolate landscape of her own village.

“I have my paddy saplings ready for planting this season,” she said. “ I believe I can work in the fields for a couple of years more. We have endured many hardships in the past, but now, it seems our days of struggle are finally over.”

Upon learning about the impending water project, the residents swiftly mobilised into action. The villagers dedicated themselves to clearing the bushes and undergrowth, preparing the land for the resurgence of paddy cultivation. The prospect of a dependable water source ignited a renewed sense of hope and determination among them, prompting them to prepare their fields for farming once more.

The implementation of the scheme will offer much-needed relief to these water-scarce communities, ensuring a consistent supply of water for both drinking and agricultural purposes.

Until now, over a thousand acres of land in Phangyul and Kazhi gewogs have remained fallow, causing an average annual economic loss of Nu 64 million.

Phangyul irrigation system

For many decades, a contentious water-sharing dispute has endured between Phangyul and Kazhi gewogs. Historically, Kazhi had prohibited Phangyul from accessing water from the Beychhu stream, located in the Damjithang village in Kazhi. This restriction resulted in severe water shortages for the residents of Phangyul.

Despite efforts to resolve the water-sharing dispute through several public consultation meetings involving both gewogs, a satisfactory resolution remained elusive. Proposed solutions were put forward to address the issue, yet even after agreements were drawn up multiple times, the impasse persisted. The challenge stemmed from the reluctance of the people of Kazhi to honour the agreements.

In the 11th Plan, about Nu 95 million was allocated to construct the irrigation system but was not utilised because the dispute could not be resolved between the two gewogs.

Following the presentation of various strategies and solutions to the public of both gewogs, consensus was eventually reached among all parties involved. With public clearance secured from both Phangyul and Kazhi gewogs, the path was cleared for the implementation of the Phangyul irrigation project.

The agreed-upon strategies encompass the promotion of HDPE pipe technology due to its flexibility, durability, and convenience compared to traditional open channels. To safeguard land holdings, pipes will be buried underground, with surveys conducted to avoid disputed areas. Risks will be mitigated through adherence to the national disaster policy, and affected households will be compensated in accordance with the law.

To address Kazhi Gewog’s demand for a 30 percent water share from the new irrigation, a separate pipeline will be installed to forestall future disputes. Operations will be jointly overseen by both gewogs to ensure fair and equitable distribution of resources.

The gewog and its beneficiaries requested the inauguration of the completed irrigation system before the beginning of farming activities.

Agriculture Minister Younten Phuntsho and UNDP Resident Representative Mohammad Younus inaugurated the Phangyul irrigation project at Phangyul Goenpa yesterday.