Yangchen C Rinzin

Bhutan needs to draw a protocol on the establishment of a proper data centre and information sharing on issues related to water, the National Assembly’s Environment and Climate Change Committee (ECCC) reported yesterday.

It called for urgent collaboration between relevant agencies like National Environment Commission (NEC), National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology, and Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) to set up one such protocol.

Presenting the committee’s report, Members of Parliament from Draagteng Langthel, Gyem Dorji said that different agencies were working as per their mandate but they did not share with other agencies.

“We need common data to refer to because different data produced by different agencies on the same issue are confusing.  It also lacks cooperation among these agencies,” he said. “It’s important to have data that determine the issue and point out what the government can do to solve water issue or drying of springs.”

Consultation with the agencies, the report on Sustainable Development Goal 13: Climate Action, observed that Bhutan still has water scarcity, sources have dried and more are drying in Eastern and Central parts of the country, and unsustainable land-use practices.

The committee also recommended NEC and DoFPS to immediately initiate research to why springs and streams were drying.

MP Gyem Dorji said that such a phenomenon was affecting the country’s water security. Therefore, the committee recommended allocating adequate budget and human resources to the department of watershed management division.

“This would scale up their performance to protect and restore streams, springs, and watersheds.”

The recommendation also includes to minimise the use of plastic bottled water and replace them with alternatives in government offices to conserve water and avoid plastic waste. The National Assembly has replaced the plastic water bottles with water flasks for each member.

The committee also recommended that the government should tighten rules and regulations to manage solid and liquid wastes.

The other recommendation is for the concerned agencies to rectify lapses in issuing environmental clearance and environmental impact assessment.

The report stated that NEC, waste and water management lack human resources.  Other challenges include providing subsidy for industrial and filtration machine, improper segregation of wastes at sources, lack of coordination among the implementing and collaborating agencies, and lack of participation and cooperation.

With the shortage of budget for specialised training, BAFRA and National Seed Centre are handicapped to prevent spreading of diseases through plants and animals. The committee said they have to be given adequate budget.

The committee observed that these agencies are often faced with a lack of specialists at the airport or border checkpoints and shortage of human resource in general.

Some of the national key result areas of the SDG 13 are maintaining the number of tiger living within geographical boundaries of the country above 103, ambient air quality level particular matter at 10 (Pms), carbon-neutral status, and access of 24 hours supply of safe drinking water.

As per the Bhutan Living Standards Survey report 2017, almost 99.5 percent of Bhutan population has access to improved water sources yet, only 63 percent has 24 hours access to drinking water. There are 1,270 irrigation schemes but only 18 percent is irrigated, most are in a poor state and are open canal. Of the total, 29 percent of the existing irrigation canals has shortage or inadequate irrigation water supply as per the committee’s report.

With 38 Yes votes, two No votes, and three abstainers, National Assembly endorsed all the eight recommendations yesterday.

Some of the members also recommended looking into the protection of lakes, wastes dumped along the riverside, and involvement of private sectors in the protection of water sources.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that with the Water Flagship and Waste Management Flagship programmes underway, most of these issues would be resolved.

Lyonchhen said that there is also a plan to establish water commission soon and Nu 2.6 Billion has been kept for water flagship and Nu 1.6B for waste management flagship.