A three-day regional workshop to review the progress of water quality partnership is underway

Resource: Around 22 urban towns, 270 rural water schemes and 30 institutions in the country are covered by the water safety plan (WSP) while the safety plan has been incorporated in the water regulation and water quality standards.

Implementation of immediate improvement in the water supply systems resulting in improved water quality and provision of water quality testing equipment for operational and compliance monitoring are also some of the key achievements of the WSP.

However, challenges remain.

Presenting the country status of the WSP at the regional workshop review progress of the water quality partnership project yesterday, works and human settlement ministry’s deputy executive engineer Jigme Phuntsho also gave an overview of the challenges in implementation of the WSP.

Some of the challenges, according to Jigme Phuntsho, are frequent change in WSP team members, lack of budget for carrying out improvement plans of water sources, retaining trained WSP team members, coordination and lack of ownership as the community don’t see immediate benefit of WSP.

More than 300,000 consumers in the rural and urban towns were protected by the WSP, which is a tool to supply safe water to consumers. Under the plan, the WSP team monitors water quality from the source till it reaches the consumers by identifying risks or hazards, contamination and through treatment processes, among others.

“The aim is to improve quality of water supply and provide safe water to the consumers,” Jigme Phuntsho said. The country joined the first phase of the WSP project for rural areas during the first phase in 2008 and for the urban areas in 2010 during the second phase.

The third phase of the project is underway currently that would end by June this year. The WSP began with support from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and DFAT, Australia. The health and works and human settlement ministries implement the WSP in close collaboration with WHO.

Health officials said that Bhutan is one of the countries that has benefited immensely from the water quality partnership for health. Since then many district engineers and health workers were trained and legislation and policies were updated to include water safety in them while information management systems were created to store and analyze data.

A model water safety plan was also developed in Bajo town, Wangduephodrang where tremendous water quality improvements have been made since the implementation of the WSP there.

Speaking at the inaugural yesterday, health minister Tandin Wangchuk said that water and sanitation are among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) given the unfinished business in trying to provide basic services to all people.

“With rapid industrialization, population growth and climate change, additional pressures are placed on our scarce water resources,” lyonpo said. “These include contamination from human and industrial wastes and reduced availability of fresh water.”

Lyonpo also said that the SDGs rightly focus on safety of drinking water, both outside and inside the house, and safely managed sanitation. The water safety plan continues to frame the management of the water supply and is reviewed and updated regularly.

With climate changes, lyonpo said many springs were drying up. “The health ministry’s team has piloted a spring revival project in one of the districts in eastern Bhutan,” he said. “The preliminary results are positive and once this is validated, we will be scaling up this technology in other parts of Bhutan.”

A statement from WHO’s regional director Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh that was read out to participants states that the region has achieved the millennium goal target for access to improved drinking water and of the sustainable gains.

“Still much needs to be done,” it was added. “The SDGs for clean water and sanitation seeks universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 as well as adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all.”

Participants from nine member countries are attending the three-day review workshop organized by WHO besides representatives from WHO country offices. The workshop concludes on March 23.

Kinga Dema