The World Water Day (WWD), observed on March 22nd every year, presents an opportunity for us to reflect on something that we often take for granted – water.
Bhutan has one of the highest per capita availability of water in the world. With an average flow of 2,238 cubic meters (m3) per second, Bhutan generates 70,572 million m3 per annum, which equates to no less than 94,500 m3 per person per year, and that is the highest in the region.
As a transient visitor to Bhutan, I am often reminded that water has always been an integral part of Bhutan’s tradition and people’s lives. Bhutanese people have shown the utmost respect for the Deities who protect watersheds, lakes and rivers in the kingdom.
However, the water we worship, cherish and rely upon is becoming scarce. While visiting rural areas, I have come across communities facing acute water shortages as water sources, including wetlands and lakes, are drying up. This problem is exacerbated in the dry season. Almost 99.5 per cent of Bhutan’s population has access to improved water sources, yet only 63 per cent has 24-hour access to drinking water. In water-rich Bhutan 32.9 per cent of people consider adequate water to be the primary concern. Recently, the Environment and Climate Change Committee of the Parliament, while deliberating climate action, recommended further research to determine why our springs and streams are dissipating.
With financial support from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Royal Government of Bhutan and UNDP are developing the country’s first National Adaptation Plan, focusing on the water sector. We are looking at water availability for drinking, sanitation, energy and agriculture to identify appropriate adaptation options. UNDP is also working closely with the Government to enhance the resilience of smallholder farms in eight Dzongkhags. Farmers are exceptionally vulnerable to climate change. Yields are affected by variation in rainfall and crops are damaged or lost due to the frequent occurrence of extreme weather conditions. Climate-smart agriculture will help us meet the increasing food demand without depleting precious resources such as soil and water.
These are some humble contributions that UNDP is making in support of the ongoing and future efforts of the Government. Yet we cannot just look to the Government to solve our looming water crisis. Everyone has a role to play. From promoting zero-waste, reuse-recycle, switch off lights, buy and eat local produce, to taking a shorter shower, there are many surprisingly easy steps we can all take to slow down climate change and to conserve water in our daily lives (but not cutting short on handwashing for COVID 19 prevention!).
As we observe World Water Day, let us reflect on the footprint we leave on Mother Earth, how we affect our water resources, and how each one of us can contribute to the movement for climate action.
By Azusa Kubota, Resident Representative, UNDP Bhutan