The monumental irony of the age is that Bhutan is water-rich, yet the problem of water shortage has been growing in the country over the years. The fact that both urban and rural Bhutan are increasingly having to contend with such privations is an indictment that we are getting it wholly wrong somewhere.
At this time of the year particularly, water shortage becomes acute in Thimphu. The problem is so severe that even those in the Lhengye Densa had to make do without water supply for more than a week.
According to the audit authority’s recent performance report, 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. Even after sending Nu 1 billion in the 11th Plan to improve water supply, the living standard report shows 99.5 percent of households have access to improved water sources but 32.9 percent of the population still prioritised water supply as their main concern. Such antithetical reports beg to be understood well.
Climate change could be contributing to the drying up of water sources. That is why growing cities like Thimphu and Phuentsholing are running short of water. The problem has exacerbated to such heights that in the rural areas people have no water to drink and to irrigate their fields.
The same audit report found that about 34 percent of water is lost along distribution networks. Irregularities in water distribution networks such as illegal tapping, water connection bypassing water meter, approval of water connection from transmission lines, and diversion of water supply are rampant. It is, therefore, clear that our emphasis should be on proper legislation and enforcement, water pricing, and public education. And how much have we invested on research and development, for example? Those are the departments where we are lacking today. Investing millions in a project that is unsustainable is a waste of resources and poor planning.
Thimphu Thromde’s initiative to encourage residents to gather feedback and complaints was at best a fumbling attempt at solving the problem that is growing by the day.
But we have an opportunity today. In the current Plan, water has been identified among the flagship programmes for which Nu 15 billion or thereabouts has been set aside. If we fail to seize on the opportunity with greater urgency, we will have lost immensely in terms of time.
A lot done but more needs to be done as the man said. We cannot afford to be found wanting.