Rajesh Rai | Singkauli
Nine-year-old Sudip Subba must be busy with his friends in school today. Two days ago, he was in Singkauli, helping his parents fetch water from a stream.
His father had woven the boy a small doko (a bamboo basket), just right for his size. Sudip carries nine litres of water. It takes about an hour to get home.
Singkauli is a remote village in Phuentshopelri, Samtse, about a three-hour journey from Gomtu town. There is no road to the village.
Due to water shortage, people grow maize and tapioca. Growing winter vegetables is impossible here. Cattle raising has dropped drastically over the years. The only source of drinking water, the Kalikhola stream, is located about three hours away from the village. For people with their houses located near the stream, it takes about an hour. As the source is located at a lower elevation from the village, accessing water using pipes is not possible.
Difficulties have been growing and now the people are ready to abandon the village.
Chabilal Gurung, 56, said there was no option left for the people than to settle elsewhere there is enough water.
“Without water, sanitation is the biggest problem,” he said. There is not a single proper toilet in the whole of the village.
People say that water sources began drying up since 2000. A flood in 1993 changed everything. Kalikhola stream dries up by April. It would not flow again until the end of July.
“Only a small pond would remain,” Chabilal Gurung said.
But it is not only the distance to the water source that is a challenge for people. As the source is located deep into the forest, elephants, gaurs, and wild buffaloes frequent the place for water.
There are today only about 10 houses in Singkauli. Three families have left for good.
One of them is Phul Maya Mongar, 50. She could not bear the growing hardship.
“It’s been four years since I left Singkauli,” she said. “I used to have backaches carrying water five times a day sometimes.”
One time she put her child to sleep and went to fetch water. Worried that animals might invade her maize fields, she put on a radio and left it in the field. When she returned, monkeys were all over the place.
In Chunag today, the family has no shortage of water to worry about.
Ramila Rai, 23, from Tendruk, lives with her three-year-old daughter and a 76-year-old father-in-law in Singkauli. Her husband is a machine operator in Samtse.
“I have to fetch water from a jungle, three times in a day,” she said. “I feel like leaving this village.”
Baldhoj Subba, 65, has already left Singkauli too, to Chunag. He has leased a private land as a temporary measure.
Another villager, Sukman Subba, 55, has more than seven acres of land in Singkauli, which is just a jungle today. From his place, it took five long hours to get to the water source. He has also left the village.
“Although I love the place it is of no use without water,” he said.
Phuentshopelri Gup Robat Lepcha said he raised the issue in DT in 2017.
“People were repeatedly raising the issue. I visited the place and found that it was a serious problem.”
Engineers visited the village to study the feasibility of bringing water to the village from the source. The option of pumping the water was not sustainable. Taking a road there was also not the option then. It costs villagers Nu 300 to take a bag of rice.
“They need 55 acres of land,” Robat Lepcha said. “We have identified the place that has water sources and enough land to settle.”
The gup said the new place at Chunag would benefit Singkauli villagers economically with enough water to farm and consume. Road is expected to come soon.
While Samtse DT has forwarded the case to department of local governance, no resolution has come so far. People are waiting.