Drying up of water sources, a major concern

Drying up of water sources is likely to have bigger and numerous impacts unless there are specific interventions

Water sources are the mainstay of Bhutan’s economy as it provides water for drinking, irrigation and hydropower generation, besides supporting the rural livelihood of about 70% of the country’s population practicing subsistence farming.

And while the country has the highest per capita of water availability of around 109,000 cubic meters every year, shortage of water due to drying up of water sources has become common across the country, and thus causing severe water shortage for the people.

A watershed management specialist, K.B Samal, said Bhutan is not water scarce.

“In fact, Bhutan has an abundance of water. The country needs better development and coordinated management for the existing water sources,” he added.

Due to water scarcity, K.B. Samal said many wetlands have been destroyed and have disappeared.

“These wetlands are important not only because it supports the growing of rice and other vegetation, but it is also the habitats of numerous inhabitants.”

K.B. Samal said water shortage is increasing presently and it is obvious to increase further provided there are specific interventions and unless people are aware of it and use it responsibly.

Drying up of water sources will add to inadequate access to safe drinking water and poor sanitation. It will also harm the environment in several ways and affect the livelihood of the people as a whole, according to the specialist.

“Agriculture is the backbone of the country and the drying up of water sources will eventually affect the agriculture system and it will have greater impact on country’s food security and sufficiency,” he said, adding, “When the land becomes uncultivable due to scarcity of water, people living in rural areas will be forced to migrate towards urban areas whereby it will led to rural-urban migration.”

He said drying up of water sources will have bigger and numerous impacts unless there are specific interventions.

The change in the land use pattern, deforestation, overuse of the forest and the increasing number of population and households are some of the factors leading to drying up of watersheds and other water sources. Impact of climate change is also believed to be the most likely cause for the disappearing of water sources.

The rapid developmental activities, large and growing population and drying up of water sources are not just the reasons for water distribution disturbances. “Huge percent of water are lost along the distribution network which ultimately causes water crises,” K.B Samal said.

He added that climate change such as altered weather- patterns, increasing pollution and a wasteful use of water can cause insufficient water supply.

Currently, there are around 186 watersheds identified in the country.

The water and wetland expert under the watershed management division, SonamChoden said the water sources are drying due to the unintended causes through human interventions to conserve the lakes and other water sources.

She said, “Concerting the lakes, diverting the inlet water source and excessive diversion of water from the sources are some of the main causes leading to drying up of water sources.”

She added that water sources which are close to human settlements are at a higher risk of disappearing.

Furthermore, she said that the reason for water crisis is not always due to drying up of water sources or lakes.

“There is no proper water budgeting done, no ecological flows left in the streams or springs from where water is sourced,” she said. “Loosing of natural water tanks like lakes and watersheds will definitely add to the problem of water shortage.”

Meanwhile, SonamChoden said the preventative measure to save water sources like lakes and watersheds is to stay away from those water sources.

“People should not disturb its ecological characteristics and by retaining the natural condition for the water sources is the best solution for its survival,” she said.

She added that the department is currently working on a nationwide scoping study of water sources drying in Bhutan under the strategic programs for climate resilience where many stakeholders are involved.

The department has also mapped all the water sources and is able to identify which water sources need immediate interventions.

“We monitor the selected sites through detailed hydrogeological survey and biophysical analysis of the area,” SonamChoden said.

She added that after a year or so, the department will be releasing a report on the empirical evidences on the causes and interventions that could be carried out.

Jigme Wangchen from Thimphu