The irony of water-rich Bhutan

Bhutan is among the few countries that fall in the Hindu Kush Himalayas. For its vast water resources, the region is commonly referred to as the “water towers of Asia.”

Ironically, Bhutan is also among the countries in the same region that is   fast facing the risk of droughts and floods, of water that is unfit to drink or in acute short supply.

Yesterday, even as the prime minister was responding to queries on how the government is planning to ease the water shortage, both for drinking and irrigation, business firms in some parts of the capital city were buying water. In Lobesa, some frustrated farmers are questioning the tsip who presided over a rainmaking ritual on Thursday.

It is monsoon and there is problem of water- both shortage and excess. Some parts of the country are grappling with flash floods and swelling seasonal streams that washed away or damaged infrastructure and private property.

News reports at this time of the year are mostly related to water. With paddy transplantation season at its peak in most rice growing dzongkhags, water is high on the agenda. Agriculture still plays an important role in the country. It is the largest employer. Yet every year – for many years – we face the same problem until the rains come and we forget everything.

Water problem is not new. It was recognised decades ago, together with the reasons for the problems. From climate change to increasing population to rapid urbanisation, the causes were identified. The problem, bigger than the water shortage, is not finding solutions.

Only 1.53 percent of the Thimphu residents get 11 to 18 hours of water supply. Twenty-nine percent get less than two-hours of water a day. We are no different from the other hill towns in the region. Hotels are paying Nu 4,500 for 4,000 liters of water to run their business.

Water-rich Bhutan has 32.9 percent of its population prioritising adequate water as the main concern. It is a shame we have not done enough- the government, the municipalities, the local leaders. Ironically, solving water problem was high on the agenda during election campaigns.

There is surely something going wrong in our planning. One hand, we prioritise food self-sufficiency, import substitution, job creation in the agriculture sector. On the other, we cannot supply water. Water could be the source of several problems if it is not resolved.

Users, both urbanites and farmers identified the cause. If it is the flaw in the distribution system in the towns, it is the lack of good infrastructure in the villages. There will be enough water if the distribution is not manipulated. There is inequality in distribution. Some buildings have overflowing tanks to the envy of those taking buckets to tap the overflow. Some have private sources.

In the villages, infrastructure is failing farmers even if there is water. In some areas, water sources are drying. We need to intervene.

There is hope. Water is included in the government’s flagship programme. There is money too. If that can turn into water in homes and paddy fields, the government will be appreciated. After all, voters whichever party they belong to, cannot live without water.

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