Only 28% of spring and 17% of stream water sources are safe for drinking 

Water: A huge majority, 97.7 percent, of the Bhutanese population may have access to improved drinking water, but what they are consuming is not the safest.

A rapid assessment of rural drinking water quality carried out by the centre for disease control in 2012 shows that only 17 percent of stream water and 28 percent of spring water sources are safe for use as drinking water. Ensuring safe drinking water is still a major challenge in the country.

This is set to change with the launch of the Bhutan Drinking Water Quality Standard (BDWQS) 2016 yesterday coinciding with the celebration of World Water Day and World Forestry Day at Samtengang Central School in Wangdue.

With the absence of drinking water quality standards, many water service providers did not feel the need to carry out water quality testing, and majority of service providers in dzongkhags do not test the quality of drinking water.

Water used for drinking must be regularly monitored and treated to protect the health of consumers, and thus, the need for BDWQS.

Tenzin Wangmo, chief environment officer with National Environment Commission (NEC), said that the Water Act 2011 mandates NEC to come up with a drinking water quality standard. World Health Organisation (WHO) has provided technical support for the development of national drinking water quality standard, she said.

As of now Bhutan has been using WHO guidelines for drinking water quality. However, since WHO guidelines were made for the region, it does not capture all local problems and issues of the country.

With accelerating development and increase in anthropogenic activities, quality of raw water sources could be deteriorating. This concern was recognized and a range of policies, guidelines and regulations, including rural water supply scheme policy, the water Act, water regulation 2014, the environmental standard 2010 and watershed management guidelines were passed to ensure the sustainability and protection of quality of drinking water sources.

Tenzin Wangmo said that NEC will ensure implementation and enforcement of drinking water quality standard, review and revise the quality standard in consultation with relevant stakeholders. The commission will also publish an annual report on drinking water quality.

She said that works and human settlement ministry will ensure safe and adequate drinking water and sustainability of infrastructure in collaboration with the dzongkhags. It will also ensure operational monitoring of water quality and train engineers and technicians working in water sector to provide safe drinking water.

Health ministry’s centre for disease control as lead institution, will implement drinking water quality standard and conduct surveillance and serve as national reference laboratory for drinking water quality testing and monitoring. The health ministry will also compile data and submit to NEC and undertake water quality testing in Thimphu Thromde.

While dzongkhag hospitals will conduct urban water testing, basic health units (BHU) will do rural water testing. The hospitals and BHUs will disseminate water quality test reports and carry out advocacy and awareness programmes for consumers.

Themed “Better water, Better Jobs,” the World Water Day was celebrated together with World Forestry Day with the theme “How do forest contribute to our water needs”.

NEC coordinated the event in collaboration with watershed management division and Wangdue dzongkhag administration with technical assistance from Asian Development Bank.

The National Integrated Water Resource Management Plan, 2016, Baychhu Watershed Management Plan, Framework for Payment for Environmental Services, and field guide and a book titled “Water- Securing Bhutan’s future” were also launched yesterday.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk, WHO representative, officials from ADB, member of parliament from Wangdue, Tashi Dorji, Wangdue dzongdag and officials, students and teachers of Samtengang Central School attended the launch.

Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue