… water scarcity forced locals to flee

Lholingkha, located above Drakarpo in Shaba, Paro, is a serene village untouched by modernization.

Except for a few hermits, no one lives here. The traditional houses overlooking Paro are locked.

In the past, residents stayed at Lholing and migrated to Jangsa during summer for paddy cultivation. However, all the villagers abandoned their ancestral homes and permanently settled in Jangsa about two decades ago due to a persistent water shortage.

According to an agriculture research expert, 15 springs sourcing drinking and irrigation water to the villagers have dried. The only one remaining has reduced to a trickle.

For several years, villagers could not cultivate anything.  Animals too perished. Almost every household in the village is deserted today. People moved out to low-lands—Jangsa, mostly working on leased lands.

Narim, 73, whose family have lived in Lholing for many generations, said it was disheartening to leave one’s Phachim (ancestral home). “I miss living in Lholing. It holds lots of memories.”

She said that a household member stayed in Jangsa in a temporary hut to look after the paddies.

Narim remembers her family growing highland crops such as wheat, buckwheat, potatoes, turnips. “Without consistent rainfall and no reliable water sources, locals could not grow anything. Disappointed, many sold their land and settled in Jangsa.”

Narim visits her ancestral home once a year during an annual ritual. She said that the family had to hire vehicles and take water tanks up to Lholing.

Only water can revive the lost village, according to Shaba Gup Chencho Gyeltshen.

With water sources drying up, he said that the gewog explored ways to connect water from Dongkorla, Jela Dzong and Pachhu, but these alternatives are expensive. “For instance, connecting water from Jela dzong, which is about 42 km away from the village, will cost around 30 million.”

Watershed Management Division started spring recharge activities in Lholing as a part of the spring revival and spring-shed management pilot project in 2018.

According to the Sanam Drupdrey report, Reviving  drying springs, structural spring revival measures such as trenches, ditches, check-dams and roadside drainages were constructed to capture maximum run-off and precipitation.

It states that the measure indicted positive results although spring revival requires a minimum of five to ten years depending on the geological setting, climate factors and rainwater infiltration rate.

Gup said that the gewog made a place to store water discharging from the spring.

While the locals settled in Jangsa trying to escape the water woes, the villagers face the same issue here.

Every household has water tanks. The locals take turns to store it every alternate day.

Gyaltshen said that the village was connected with temporary drinking water from a neighbouring village Zhungkha’s source. “We got temporary drinking water because of the pandemic. The supply will be discontinued after the pandemic.”

Another resident, Gyalpo Tshering, said that the issue was raised in gewog, dzongkhag and with National Environment Commission.

He said that if the people of Zhungkha were willing to share their source, which has abundant water, the problem could be solved. “Our sources are drying up and water is not sufficient for drinking and irrigation.”

Gup Chencho Gyeltshen said that every household in Shaba faced similar shortages. Although Zhungkha has a significant water source, it was distributed as drinking water for about 80 homes and four villages for irrigation.

He said that it was wise to share the resources, but there was a conflict between the two villages.

By Phub Dem | Paro

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk