It’s been more than a year seventy-six-year-old Tshering has been begging water from her neighbour. The muddy pond at Dhampheyjuk that served as the main source dried completely.

And now her benefactor has stopped giving her water. Tshering has only to rely on rainwater to drink and wash.

There are 81 households in Laptsakha chiwog in Talo, Punakha. The residents have been severely hit by an acute drinking water shortage. The situation became worse after the Dhampheyjuk pond dried up.

Until 2015, the pond was the ultimate source of water for the 13 households of Gungthramo village. There is now not a trace of pond to be found in Dhampheyjuk.

Tshering said: “Streams and springs are drying every year. I don’t understand why they disappear.

Maybe the nature must be cursing us for some wrong we’ve done.”

For miles, there is not a single water source.

Tshering, mother of eight, goes out with aluminum bowl whenever there is rain.

“If there is no rain there is no water,” she said.

What would happen in winter when there is no rain?

According to the National Health Survey reports of 2012, 97.7 percent of the Bhutanese have access to piped drinking water. Here, though, water do not run through the taps.

The villagers have resorted to collecting rainwater in jerry cans, artificial ponds, sintexs and wells. This method does not look safe and healthy.

Talo Gup Dorji Wangchuk is worried about drying water sources.

“I think the extreme weather events could be one of the factors that contribute to drying of water sources,” said Dorji Wangchuk.  “If timely intervention is not taken, our livelihood could be in danger.”

National issue

Drinking water shortage has hit many communities across the country. At Shumar gewog in Pemagatshel, close to a thousand people are sharing water from a few seasonal springs. Gamung and Gonpung villages have no fixed water sources. The villagers collect water from temporary springs that hold water in summer when there is rain. The sources disappear in winter.

The dzongkhag administration of Pemagatshel recently initiated an interim measure to supply water. Twice every weekend, water tanker with the capacity of about 9,000 litres come to distribute water to the villagers.

The dzongkhag is studying the possibility of pumping in water from Changche Yejuk, a rivulet that runs below the villages. It is costly.

Shumar gup Sangay Chophel said that the springs and streams that once ran through the villages have dried. “In the recent memory, there’s not a single day when people had enough water.”

In Phangyul gewog in Wangdue too, people have been depending on a few litres of water every day.

Most of the time, the gewog officials through their own initiative pipe in water from a spring, which they said is also becoming smaller by the year.

One of the civil servants who works at the gewog centre said that every morning he goes out into the forest to answer nature’s call.

“We need to save water for drinking and cleaning,” he said.

For the people of the communities where there is acute water shortage, sanitation doesn’t come first.

In Kengkhar in Mongar, drinking water shortage has severely affected about 2,212 people of 482 households.

According to a study done by Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conversation and Environment Research, springs such as Bartshang, Drupchhu, Nuputsho, Kumshingree and Demnangree have completely disappeared.

Climate change, in addition to increasing anthropogenic activities, could impact both quality and quantity of water because climate change in the region is occurring at higher elevation. Untimely rainfall, extreme heat, flooding, landslide and windstorm have become common.

The report says that although Bhutan is endowed with abundant water, seasonal and local water scarcity for drinking and agriculture have been observed due to extreme weather events.

Though it’s not easy to ascertain whether the disappearance of water sources is purely because of climate change, most of the villagers who depend on ground water, springs, streams, ponds and wells for drinking said that erratic rainfall could be one of the main factors leading to drying of water sources.

However, no studies have been done so far to understand to what extent the climate change has affected the water sources in the country.

Other possible factors

According to a rural water supply inventory 2014, about 13,732 rural households across the country are facing drinking water problem. With increasing population, infrastructure development and improved livelihood, demand for water has increased by many folds.

Compared to rural areas, demand for water in urban centres is much higher.

One of the reasons the villagers do not have access to drinking water is because of the geography. Most of the settlements are on the slopes and terrain where water runs below the settlement making it difficult for them to collect it.

If the government does not find alternative to solve the issue of drinking water shortage, it will be slow death of villages.

Tenzin Namgyel | Punakha