Access to water paramount to eradicating poverty in Bhutan

Oct 17, 2017

On October 17th, 1987, the world witnessed an unprecedented show of solidarity. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Paris to advocate for the voices of the people living in poverty to be heard. Today’s celebration of the International Day to Eradicate Poverty (IDEP) is one manifestation of their success.

Guided by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established in September 2015 with the declaration of Agenda 2030, the United Nations in Bhutan believes that the first of the 17 Global Goals – To end poverty in all its forms everywhere – is paramount to ensuring the dignity and rights of people throughout the world.

“Eradicating poverty requires economic growth that is inclusive and sustainable. This means stimulating the economic sectors where the poor work; investing in quality social and physical infrastructure where the poor live; and providing the minimum essential levels of basic services for health and education, access to safe water and sanitation in those areas,” says UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, marking IDEP today. To be met, SDG 1 will need to see “people rise out of poverty and stay out of poverty,” resilient against the shocks of severe weather and tensions over natural resources.

In Bhutan, the relationship between eradicating poverty and access to water is paramount, with the impact of climate change adding to the stress already felt by vulnerable communities. Gyermo and her husband from Singye village in Samtse farm cardamom and herd cows for a living. At the age of 70, their job isn’t easy. Gyermo’s husband carries water uphill for an hour to get it to his house. With many water sources drying up, climate change will only make Gyermo and her husband’s livelihoods even more difficult.

Stories like Gyenmo and her husband’s demonstrate people’s resilience in Bhutan, as well as the long road ahead before SDG 1 can be sustainably achieved.

In 2016, UNDP Bhutan set out to better understand how improved access to water as part of efforts to adapt to climate change actually tackles poverty. We studied the impact of new climate resilient water harvesting, storage and distribution systems in 20 villages across four Dzongkhags of Bhutan, systems established through a collaboration between the Royal Government of Bhutan, the Tarayana Foundation, UNDP and the Global Environment Facility as part of Bhutan’s National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA II). We focused on understanding the impact of this investment on the lives of women and children in the villages.

The findings were overwhelmingly positive. The climate resilient water harvesting system resulted in water sources shifting from unprotected sources to piped sources, a significant reduction in drudgery, or menial work, and a strong desire for project expansion to other communities.

 For Misim Zangmo living in Mekuri in Pemagatshel, a mother of five children, all under twelve, improved access to water through the project means no more two hour walks in the early morning to the stream and no more aches and pains from carrying water two hours back home. It means her children are getting sick from unclean water less frequently, which has translated into better school attendance. It means the ability to diversify her crops and more free time from no longer having to take cattle to the stream. For Misim and her family, this investment in better access to water means a better future. For the first time in her life, Misim is starting to save enough money to travel to big towns like Samdrupjonkhar, Phuntsholing and Thimphu to see how people live in cities.

While progress is being made, achieving SDG 1 is an immense task that will take grass roots, global action to achieve. While the show of solidarity in Paris in 1987 was unprecedented at the time, we again need an unprecedented show of solidarity and action at a global level to make real, tangible improvements for each and every person living in poverty. 

For more information please contact:

Mr. Ugyen Dorji

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