Monday, May 7, 2018

Are Our School Drinking Water Safe to Drink?

Combined with snow, ice, freshwater lakes, running streams, rivers and ground water, Bhutan has one of the highest per capita availability of water in the world. With an average flow of 2,238 m3/s, Bhutan generates 70,572 million cubic meters per annum, i.e. 94,500 m3 per person per year, the highest in the region.

And yet, Bhutan suffers, what I call, “the problem of plenty”. Most of our waters are at the bottom of ravines and gorges, while our settlements are on hilltops and plateaus. Plentiful water is most often inaccessible to us.

Even worst, over the past few decades, we have been choking our life giving rivers with hydro-power dams that churn out debts amounting to hundreds of billions, at 10% interest. Over time, I fear that our water resources may no longer remain under our control.

But there seems to be a greater water borne threat that we seem to ignore - drinking water that we supply to our school children. How many of the water supplies in our schools are really safe for our children to drink?

With generous financial support committed by Disaster Aid Australia (DAA), the Rotary Club of Thimphu has begun the arduous journey of reaching safe drinking water to every school in Bhutan. The DAA has committed Australian Dollars one million by the end of 2020 – to achieve that goal.

Is the RGoB willing to commit 1% of that commitment made by the Australian NGO - to realize that goal? There is a need to go beyond the talk!

Since we started to install SkyHydrant water filters in schools, the Rotary Club of Thimphu has carried out some tests - to determine the quality of water that are being consumed by our school children. The following are the test results derived from one beneficiary school and other water sources in the vicinity of the installation. Look at the following results. The test was carried out early last month by the Health Assistant of the BHU in the vicinity of the school.

Sample drawn from the drain close to the school - totally infested with bacteria

Test result of one village close to the school. High level of E.Coli content - unfit for drinking unless treated

Test result of another village close to the school. Some level of E.Coli content - drinkable after treatment

Test results of the water quality at the Basic Health Unit that conducted the test - No E. Coli but presence of foreign particles visible

Test results of the water at the school where DAA donated SkyHydrant water filtration system was installed - No E. Coli and no foreign particles visible

I fear that water supplied to our school children may not be safe. Does Ministry of Education test water quality in schools? Does Health Ministry do it? Do the schools themselves do it? What are the results?

We keep talking of falling quality of education among our children. Could it be directly linked to the quality of water we supply to the school children?

Please spare a moment to give it a thought.


  1. Would you be so kind to share your email address. I have been following the story about the installation of sky hydrants in our schools for which we are ever thankful to DAA. Actually, I am interested to know more about the program from you.

  2. Dear Sonam
    You can reach me at:

  3. It is amazing how resources are wasted in a poor country like ours. Water quality monitoring was a core program of the National Environment Commission and expansive resources were used to buy equipment; train officers and technicians;develop policies, acts, standards etc. Today there is an ertswhile Water Division in the NEC but I have no clue what it does.

    Meanwhile the ADB has invested in a substantial Integrated Watershed Management Plan (IWMP) for Bhutan. The document is worth a read but its implementation is still at tortoise speed.

    Then there was, or does it still exists, the Bhutan Water Partnership housed at the Royal Society for Protection of Nature. Besides attending regional and global events, and members meeting,over a trek sometimes, I never fathomed what the group achieved.

    Of course, the Public Health Division under the Ministry of Health, is supposed to monitor the water quality of our drinking water sources. The question is how regularly do they do this.

    The Waterkeepers Alliance(?) is now working with Clean Bhutan and has started testing spots along the Thimphu and Paro rivers. They intend to make the results available to the public so that the general population is informed and can lobby for actions to keep our rivers clean.

    The point I am making is that while vast resources may have already been spent in developing national capacity to monitor water quality, the ground reality is that efforts are still uncoordinated and lacklustre. We hear our policy makers talking og whitd gold and how Bhutan is blessed with so much water. If so, it is very very high time that we catch the bull by the horn.