The water we drinkNearly half Bhutan's schools lack access to sufficient water

Published 4 February 2011

238 of Bhutan’s 576 schools lack sufficient water supplies; water shortages disrupt education as children must spend time that could be spent learning fetching water from streams; children are also falling sick due to poor hygiene and sanitation as a result of limited access to water; unsafe drinking water is one the second leading cause of death in the world and poses a serious public health risk to these children; water sources in Bhutan are dwindling as glaciers recede making it difficult to provide schools with water

According to a report by Bhutan’s education ministry, 238 schools in Bhutan lack sufficient water supplies.

The situation has improved with 290 schools out of a total 576 having access to sufficient sources of clean water, but the situation is still in need of improvement for many.

Limited access to clean drinking water is a serious public health problem, as it is the second leading cause of death in the world outpacing war, HIV/AIDS, and famine.

Each year, according to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, 1.8 million people die every year from diseases contracted by contaminated drinking water.

Ensuring children in schools have access to water has been one of the primary goals of the education ministry, however according to Tshewang Tandin, the director general of the Department of Education, dwindling water resources has made this task difficult.

Tandin said that new schools are being built only in areas where there are enough water supplies, but finding locations with sufficient water is increasingly problematic as sources are drying up due to severe manifestations of climate change.

Bhutan depends heavily on the Himalaya’s glaciers to feed its streams, but with the rapid melting of these glaciers due to rising global temperatures, these streams have begun to shrivel.

Of the country’s 101 boarding schools, only thirty-six schools have sufficient water while forty-four lack sufficient water supplies, including eleven schools without tap water infrastructure.

Aside from the health risks, water shortages are disrupting education.

Chimmi Rinzin, a teacher at a rural school, says that children waste time fetching water from streams instead of learning in classrooms.

Another teacher said that children were falling sick and missing class because insufficient water led to poor hygiene and sanitation.

Education officials are continuing to work to provide children with sufficient water resources, while UNICEF and various European governments are working with Bhutan to boost access to safe drinking water and improve its water infrastructure.