ACREWAS project making strides in Bhutan

The project aims to address water shortages and declining water quality in the country, twin trends driven by the global climate crisis

The Advancing Climate Resilience of the Water Sector in Bhutan (ACREWAS) project in Bhutan which kicked off in September 2023 is well on its way to making a positive impact in the country. With a budget of USD 8.9 million from Global Environment Facility’s Least Developed Countries Fund (GEF-LDCF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as well as co-financing of USD 25 million from the Royal Government of Bhutan, the project aims to improve water governance and management in the country over a five-year period.

Sonam Rabgye, Program Analyst at the Environment and Livelihood Unit, UNDP said that as of now the project has completed its setup of Project Management Unit (PMU) in the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport (MoIT). The other progress such as social and environmental assessments, and awarding tenders for water infrastructure in Lobesa, Punakha, and Tsirang were completed.

Sonam shared that the project is working on developing guidance tools for the National Integrated Water Management Plan and conducting feasibility studies for water tariffs.

Despite facing some challenges, such as coordinating activities across central and district levels and navigating seasonal weather conditions, Program Analyst shared that the project has been successful in engaging with local communities and stakeholders.

“These consultations have served to raise awareness and incorporate community with an opportunity and a voice to express their needs and concerns, ensuring these are incorporated into the project design,” the program analysts said. Moreover, clearances related to environmental, forest, and community approvals have been secured, reflecting a commitment to transparent and inclusive decision-making processes.

The projects has also prioritized capacity building and awareness sessions, with recent activities focusing on instituting grievance redressal mechanism and awareness on gender based violence, safeguarding right and wellbeing of stakeholders and beneficiaries through an inclusive, respectful and responsive manner fostering positive and secure environment in Punakha. Similar initiatives are planned for Gasa and Tsirang districts too.

Meanwhile, the ACREWAS project was launched on September 2023 and it will be implemented until 2028. The project targets the restoration and management of water catchments, the introduction of climate-resilient agricultural practices, and the promotion of climate-proof water and irrigation infrastructure. It is projected to benefit over 37,000 people across Gasa, Punakha, and Tsirang districts.

The project also aims to enhance the coherence of national and local policies related to climate-resilient water resource management while also strengthening the capacity of government and community-based institutions to manage these resources in an efficient, innovative and sustainable way. The financial mechanisms will be established to encourage public-private and entrepreneur participation in water resource management including in operations and maintenance.

Innovative conservation financing solutions such as the Payment for Environment Services (PES) will be introduced to incentive sustainable land management practices among farmers.

Climate projections for the country indicate a rise in temperatures, which could exacerbate heat waves, droughts, and glacial melt. These changes threaten agricultural livelihoods, with farmers already experiencing the impacts of more frequent droughts, floods, and landslides. The ACREWAS project seeks to mitigate these risks and build resilience within rural and peri-urban communities heavily reliant on agriculture.

Among the expected outcomes of the projects are improved access to irrigation and domestic water for over 37,000 people, restoration of over 41,00 hectares of land under climate-resilient management and of the 38,518 hectares of watersheds will be restored and protected. Additionally, 3,392 hectares of agricultural land will be brought under climate-resilient practices including adoption of climate-smart agricultural technologies.

Further, 74 kilometers of water transmission and distribution lines will be “climate-proofed” and automated with Internet of Things (IoT) and ICT based technologies.

The program analyst said that knowledge sharing and awareness-raising activities are integral components of the project, aiming to disseminate best practices and empower communities to adapt to climate change impacts effectively.

By Nidup Lhamo, Thimphu