Saturday, 16 August 2008

Bhutan : The curse of the river

For the second year in a row, farmers of Norbugang in Sarpang are not cultivating rice. RIKU DHAN SUBBA reports

It is not because of marauding wild elephants or boars but because Kharkhola River has been a major problem to the farmers for the past 11years. After eating up two irrigation channels and more than 12 acres of rice fields, the river is still an incessant menace to the farmers.

Sitting on the edge of a broken land, Passang Muktan wonders how long the Kharkhola will take to erode away his remaining land. Earlier, he used to cultivate more than three acres of rice every year. After the river eroded his entire rice field, he has been staying dispirited- surviving on little money he gets from selling doma.

“Everything has gone in the last 11 years and the river is claiming the remaining land too. It seems very unsafe to live here,” Passang Muktangsaid. Although he builds the walls to protect his land every year, the river washes away the erected walls. Every summer the river erodes his land from all the corners and he believes one day the river will gobble up all his land and the entire village.

The small stream, covered with thick forests, snakes, monkeys and porcupines was a ‘conserved village’ without any threat. “Everything was normal until a flood in 1996 washed away the entire lowland paddy fields and the irrigation channels. Now it is a common summer activity, battling the river,” said Sun Bdr Subba, a former Mangi Ap.

About 31 households are not cultivating rice this year due to lack of irrigation channels. Many converted the fields into doma orchards and fodder grasslands.

However, many farmers try to build their own channels with temporary walls but to no use. “We build our own channels in the morning but always find them destroyed by the river in the evening,” said Karma Dema Tamang, another farmer.

Since last year, initiatives like planting bamboo and grass and construction of loose walls have been rendered by the government.

But within a few hours, it is washed away by the raging river. None of these anti-erosion measures could keep the raging river at bay. Many villagers suggest that their hope will become a reality only if a permanent boulder pitching and netting is constructed. The dzongkhag agriculture officer, Tashi Wangdi, said the dzongkhag administration is sourcing the budget for the maintenance of the irrigation channels and for land protection.

“The UNDP has agreed to support to maintain all the broken channels all around the dzongkhag,” Tashi Wangdi said. According to him there are around seven broken irrigation channels in the dzongkhag. Meanwhile, there is no rice and the river rages on.

No comments: