Their only hope for irrigation is blocked by denial of passage via a neighbouring gewog

Water: Acute water shortage in Phagyul gewog, Wangduephodrang has many left villagers frustrated, with more than 1,000 acres of land turned fallow without a possible solution.

Phub Dem, 43, of Kumchi village is worried about how to sustain until the next harvest, with most of her three-acre land lying fallow.

“It’s not because of labour shortage but water, which is a pertinent issue for the gewog,” the mother of four said.

Another villager, Gyem said the acute water shortage has even led to some villagers migrating to urban areas.

“We can’t grow vegetables or even wheat, which requires less water,” said Gyem.

Phub Dem and her neighbours decided to contribute labour instead for other gewogs to earn income.

“At times, we even feel like running away from the village,” said Phub Dem.

In Phangyul village, it has become a daily routine for Wangdi to collect water from sources located about three to four kilometres from his place in his power tiller.

“Water has become too precious for us,” he said, adding that, during annual rituals, people are even busier in search of water.

The issue was also raised during a meeting with Wangdue’s national council representative, Tashi Dorji.  Despite receiving water connection materials, villagers said the gewog couldn’t get water supply.

“We’ve had two elections and the change in government didn’t help solve the water scarcity issue,” Phangyul chiwog tshogpa said.

The tshogpa said that more than 1,000 acres of land have turned fallow, which is only getting worse every year.  He said some wait for the rainwater for irrigation.

The Phangyul mangmi said, in the past, they could source groundwater from several locations, which have also dried up over the years.

“While the old water sources have dried up, looking for new sources has become a challenge,” he said.

Of the seven villages in the gewog, gup Ugyen said Goengkhar, Khomche and Phangyul villages were the most affected.  If it doesn’t rain, paddy plantation is affected.

Gup Ugyen attributed the gradual drop in paddy plantation every year to the change in weather pattern and erratic rainfall.

“The acute water shortage and erratic rainfall has made it difficult for villages to make ends meet,” gup Ugyen said.

To resolve the issue, the government has planned to source water from Baychu stream, about 25km from Phangyul for irrigation.  If this comes through, the irrigation channel is expected to connect more than 305 households of Phangyul gewog with both irrigation and drinking water.

For this, during the 10th Plan, Nu 84M was also allocated for the irrigation project, but was withdrawn owing to communal dispute.  The water had to be sourced through Kashi gewog.  However after several consultations, people of Kashi gewog refused to give access to the irrigation water.

Wangdue dzongrab Pema said villagers of Khomothang, Kashi gewog refused to provide land clearance for the irrigation channel that would pass through the village and agriculture fields.  Villagers of Kashi claimed that it would affect their fields.

Kashi gup Sigay Dorji said the water source, if approved, had to pass through agriculture fields of Kashi, because of which people refused.

“The people also demanded land substitute or compensation to which villagers of Phangyul didn’t agree,” Sigay Dorji said.

In an earlier interview, dzongrab Pema said villagers of Kashi accepted the proposal, with the condition that about 50 percent of the water from that irrigation channel should be allocated for Kashi.

Even today, the issue is yet to be resolved, while people of Phangyul continue to be plagued by acute water shortage.

Villagers of Phangyul said, in line with the Water Act, if one village has enough water, they would have to share with the neighbouring village, which is not happening in this case.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue