Of the 23 percent of agriculture land under irrigation, mostly for paddy cultivation, 21 percent of the irrigation schemes have scarce or inadequate water supply, states the Bhutan’s voluntary national review report on the implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

The report stated that Bhutan’s average water flow of 2,238 cubic metre per second amounts to 94,500 cubic metre per person per year, the highest in the region.

The report gave a reference to Bhutan Water Security Index (BWSI), 2016, where the water security index is positive. However, it is low when it comes to urban water security. “The scenario is likely to deteriorate in the future, as the demand for water increases. While the demand for municipal and rural drinking water is expected to increase to 37 cubic meters and 20 cubic meters per year respectively from that of 2002 of 10 cubic meters and 11 cubic meter per year, irrigation water requirement is expected to increase to more than 472 cubic meters per year by 2022 from 393 cubic meters per year.”

In recognition of the importance of managing water resources for a secure future, the report stated that Bhutan adopted Water Policy in 2008, Water Act in 2011, and the National Integrated Water Resource Management Plan (IWRMP) in 2016. In addition to these, Water Regulation 2014 was approved and Water Safety Plan for municipalities has been developed. Some 10,707 households also benefit from the WASH system piloted through Community Health Pilot Project.

Today, 99.5 percent of the households have access to improved water sources, with 45.5 percent piped water in the dwellings, 50.4 percent piped water in the compound and 63 percent of the households have 24 hours access to drinking water, according to the report.

“Physical access to infrastructure does not necessarily mean having access to water 24/7,” the report stated.

Some of the key challenges, the report highlighted was drying up of water sources, growing urban population, flooding, poorly planned drainage system, pollution from sewerage and waste and increased seasonal variation in rainfall among others.

The report also stated that there is a poor understanding on the national level impact of climate change and how this affects water availability and supply to design appropriate adaptation options that needs to be implemented across landscape and the necessary physical infrastructures to protect the resources.

As for sanitation, approximately six percent of under-five deaths are caused by diarrhoea. The Child Multidimensional Poverty Index report (2016) found a high correlation between child poverty and deprivations in improved sanitation.

Moreover, student-toilet ratio shows that girls’ toilets in lower, middle and higher secondary schools do not meet the national standard of one toilet for every 25 girls.

Both safe drinking water and sanitation is still an issue in monastic institutions, including nunneries.

Some of the challenges in improving sanitation are inadequate sanitation facilities in informal/temporary settlements and nomadic populations, lack of accurate data on sanitation, proper management of septic tanks, safe transport and disposal of sludge in urban areas, inadequate sanitation infrastructure and its operation and maintenance, among others.

To address the issues on sanitation and hygiene, it was stated that government has developed the national sanitation and hygiene policy and water and wastewater Master Plans.  In addition, water and sanitation is a National Key Result Area in the 12th FYP.

Tshering Dorji