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Lhuentse: Rainwater Harvesting
Perched high on a steep hill, the Rinchen Bumpa Lhakhang in Kurtoe, Lhuentse, is a well known pilgrimage site in eastern Bhutan. Between October and March every year, after the harvest, pilgrims make the steep climb to the lhakhang where they stay up to one week, seeking the blessings of the Guru nye. But the lhakhang has been plagued by a scarcity of water. The nearest freshwater source is a one-hour walk downhill and pilgrims spend much of their time ferrying water for cooking and drinking. Not anymore.

A simple and flexible method of harvesting rainwater has ensured that water will now be available at the lhakhang throughout the year. Gutters have been fitted under the eaves of the lhakhang, channeling rainwater to a pipe which fills seven plastic water tanks that can hold 11,000 litres of water supplying the main lhakhang, the kitchen and the guesthouse. The system will catch rainwater during the monsoon months, April to September, and store it in the tanks to be used by the pilgrims who visit the lhakhang in late autumn and winter when the rains stop.

Gutters channeled into the tank to store rainwater
The project is a joint effort of SNV, Netherlands, and the government. "The proposal came to us from the district engineer who asked for something which is simple but effective to solve the water crisis in the Lhakhang," said the SNV consultant, Mr Stephen Petersen. "We opted for the rainwater harvesting method to solve the problem." A simple, cost-effective and easy method, rainwater harvesting is a worldwide practice in places where conventional water supply systems are not available.

Aluminum gutters are constructed under the eaves of the corrugated iron roofs and connected to a pipe. The clean water is captured from the roof and saved in containers where it is collected for future use.


Dutch support
Traditional waa (forefront) replaced by modern tanks (background)
Mr Petersen said that water crisis was a pattern in such settlements. "The houses are situated on top of mountains and ridges which makes the conventional method of water supply difficult and very expensive to draw through pipelines." He also pointed out that the old traditional method of collecting rainwater in a waa (wooden tub) was unsafe because of organic materials that contaminate it. But with this new method, if the water is covered and stored, it can last for long period of time.

" Mr Petersen added that it was a misconception that old water was unsafe for drinking. "In fact, the older the water the safer for drinking because it purifies itself into distilled water which can be used even years later," said Mr Petersen. "But you have to make sure that it is covered well, preventing foreign bodies entering into it."

The rainwater harvesting project is expected to be extended to other parts of the country, with Kengkhar and Jurmi geogs in Mongar district, selected as the second region for promoting the practice.

Contributed by Karma Choden, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2009


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Netherlands Development Organisation
SNV World
Netherlands Development Organisation in Bhutan
SNV Bhutan

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