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Water shortage must be addressed

Water shortage has hit homes in the capital again. Authorities such as the municipality call it a seasonal phenomenon. We call it a manmade hazard.

Bhutan’s per capita water availability may be one of the highest in the region but weak water distribution system has perennially left the taps at home run dry. Water shortage, both for drinking and irrigation is a national issue but it still fails to make it to the national agenda. In our quest for accelerated development, we have forgotten to meet the people’s most basic needs for livelihood. The country, especially the urban centres are today reeling under housing and water shortage, an issue that persists despite claims of efforts being made to address them.

At the water symposium last year, the prime minister had said that even with more than 17 streams running through Thimphu, homes in the capital do not have access to drinking water supply round the clock. The government, he said, has made huge budget allocation, but the services are not improving, which means that there must be something wrong somewhere.

A recent audit report revealed that 4.58 percent of households in the city receive water for less than an hour a day while 26.7 percent have 24 hours water supply. That residents of Thimphu municipality receive 60.93 percent of drinking water against the required quantity shows that the water distribution system, if there is one, is as good as defunct. When the problem continues to exist despite huge budget being allocated to fix it, we have to accept that those who are tasked with the responsibility are the problem.

We have heard the authorities blaming the seasons, drying water sources and infrastructure development among others, for the water shortage. This must stop even if these factors contribute to water scarcity. It is time we accept that we have not done a good job in setting up the infrastructure that ensures continued drinking water supply. We claim to be good planners but the recent reports of lack of sewerage lines and dry taps, basic housing amenities that are necessary to live a dignified life, indicate that our socio-economic achievements are hollowed.

Last week, Punakha dzongkhag court sentenced 32 villagers for destroying three drinking water reservoir tanks and supply pipelines of a neighbouring gewog. Twenty villagers were found guilty of malicious mischief while a dozen others were convicted of criminal conspiracy for their involvement in planning the damage. Water shortage and the fear of leaving the fields fallow is at the core of this dispute. A lack of concerted efforts to address water shortage in rural homes has fuelled the fear of irrigation water running short, its impact on the fields and the livelihood of the farmers.

It is time we address water shortage issue with urgency. While the 12th Plan has identified it as an area of priority, there is a need to review the roles and responsibilities of the agencies that are involved in the management and distribution of the resource. The national environment commission, health and the human settlement ministries, municipalities and dzongkhag administrations among others, appear to be duplicating responsibilities and resources.

But such is the issue with the resource. Since it affects everyone, no one makes an effort to correct the problem and the water woes of a water rich country continues.

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