Towards Climate-Resilient Inclusive WASH Services in Rural Bhutan

Water for Women partners with SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and partners to accelerate progress in rural water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) access for 88,246* people living in the districts of Dagana, Zhemgang and Trashigang, Bhutan.


Bhutan is the world’s first carbon negative country and a global biodiversity hotspot, however its location in the fragile ecosystems of the Himalayas makes it highly vulnerable to climate change. Increasing trends in temperature and rainfall increase the risk of flash floods, glacial lake outburst flooding, landslides and droughts in the future.[1] Although Bhutan’s water supply is abundant, recent studies reveal the threat of water sources drying up and water availability becoming a greater challenge for communities, with increased probability of dry periods and heatwaves and unpredictable rainfall.[2]

The World Bank projects above-average warming, droughts and heatwaves, which will severely impact the lowlands.[3] Rising temperatures and precipitation could also change the transmission pattern for vector-borne diseases.[4] Most of the country’s agricultural land and infrastructure is in drainage basins and highly vulnerable to monsoon rains, increased snow melt, landslides, glacial lake outburst floods and changing patterns of river discharge and water availability.

Freshwater in Bhutan is sourced mostly from streams, springs and wetlands, which in turn are fed by glaciers and monsoon rain. The projected increases in temperature, greater mean annual rainfall, and greater variation in surface water flow between wet and dry seasons will impact significantly on Bhutan’s water sources.

Across Bhutan, it is reported that 35% of the water sources are drying up[5] and most of the rural water schemes have no water safety plans.[6] This fact, combined with limited water management arrangements, increases water insecurity, and if not addressed, can undermine and reverse the gains achieved over the past decade.


A high hilltop in Bhutan with a house and water storage pond and mountains viewed in the background

Bhutan's location in the fragile ecosystems of the Himalayas makes it highly vulnerable to climate change (SNV Bhutan / Upasana Dahal of Oopz Production)


Climate-related risks to water, sanitation and hygiene


Climate change effects people in different ways, but Bhutanese women face multiple negative impacts; 71% of women are responsible for unpaid domestic care work, including household water and WASH duties, but are underrepresented in decision-making platforms. An SNV study in May 2022[7] identified Bhutanese children, people with disability and women at highest risk due to climate change. These groups are dependent on support for access and safe use of WASH, have lower coping capacity and higher hygiene needs.

While Bhutan achieved 100% access to improved sanitation in 2022,[8] the challenge remains to accelerate access to safely managed sanitation, which protects community health and well-being, including safeguarding vital water sources from faecal contamination.

Nationally, water access is high with 99% of the population able to access a water supply,[9] however, only 63% has 24-hour access and 32.9% of people consider adequate water supply their primary concern.[10]

Lack of access to clean water remains one of the most pressing issues.

Water safety plans do not exist for 93% of the population’s water supply, 70% have no management committee and 48% have no caretakers,[11] leaving community water sources highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

“The project is timely with Bhutan achieving 100% ODF/access to improved sanitation. Through the project, linkages to sanitation, hygiene and water will be strengthened, while leveraging on the government’s huge investment in water supply investments to develop [a] comprehensive management model to build in climate resilience and inclusion in water management. It will also contribute to post-ODF with safely managed sanitation facilities through [an] institutionalised monitoring system.”

Ugyen Rinzin, SNV Bhutan Project Leader



The project districts of Dagana, Zhemgang and Trashigang represent the three climatic zones of the country – alpine, temperate and sub-tropical.[12] Each zone faces challenges, as wet periods become wetter and dry periods drier.

A map of Bhutan with regional areas of operation highlighted



The Towards Climate-Resilient Inclusive WASH Services in Rural Bhutan project aims to accelerate progress in rural WASH in Dagana, Zhemgang and Trashigang by strengthening the adaptive capacities of stakeholders, including rights holder groups and communities, to ensure sustainable service delivery and achieve quality and equity at scale.

Building on the successes and achievements of SNV’s Water for Women project, Beyond the Finish Line – Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All, completed in 2022, this project is addressing emerging challenges and needs, with technical advisory services, evidence-based advocacy, strategic partnerships, multi-stakeholder processes, gender and social inclusion mainstreaming, and knowledge, learning and exchange integrated in the program approach.


From 2023-2024, this project aims to deliver lasting impact through:

  • Improved capacity of two national and 10 subnational government agencies in planning, delivering, monitoring and targeting of investments in climate-resilient inclusive WASH services that adapt to climate risks and water security challenges
  • Increased capacity of two national and 10 subnational government agencies in designing, investing, implementing, and monitoring social and behaviour change communications that respond to climate-driven health risks and increase disaster preparedness
  • Improved performance of 30 rural water supply operators (Water Users’ Committees) and strengthened adaptive post-construction support services delivering climate-resilient inclusive WASH services
  • Strengthened consumer supply chains and finance to deliver affordable market-based solutions for changing consumer needs, climate resilience and service levels, including for potentially disadvantaged groups
  • Strengthened leadership, agency and voice of women, people with disabilities, potentially disadvantaged groups and civil society actors
  • Documenting and sharing of climate-resilient and gender, disability and socially inclusive evidence and practices with other CSOs, national/subnational sectors and international WASH and water sector actors.
Two women in traditional dress are seen washing their hands in the foreground in rural Bhutan

Handwashing with soap in the highlands, Laya (SNV Bhutan / Tashi Dorji). View more photo updates from our work in Bhutan.

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Bhutan country summary document cover thumbnail

This project is an extension of, Beyond the Finish Line – Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All, which was delivered from 2018-2022.

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Transformative leadership for inclusive WASH in a post-COVID world


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WASH-related climate challenges for this project

  • With water sources drying up, declining spring water and a lack of water safety plans for the rural water schemes, water security is a major concern across the three project districts.
  • Climate change is already impacting the functionality of the predominantly pour flush toilets, which rely on a sufficient water supply to meet daily household WASH needs.
  • Wastewater treatment and discharge accounts for around 87% of total waste-related greenhouse gas emissions nationally.[13]
  • Safe sanitation management practices are still not well understood and the use of data from monitoring systems to adjust approaches is limited.
  • Climate-related events and crises, such as floods and landslides, threaten the integrity of WASH infrastructure, including sanitation systems, and thus the quality and availability of water for consumption and hygiene.
  • Although water is abundant, access to safe water at all times across seasons and after extreme weather events remains a challenge.



“The current focus of our drinking water supply programme has been on the expansion of physical infrastructure and little attention given on post-construction management support system at the subnational levels. As such, imminent sustainability concerns aggravated by key climate risks of flooding, landslides and droughts [are] presenting different yet interlinked challenges, the rethinking, reforming, and strengthening [of] water management and governance is of utmost importance.”

Dechen Yangden, Chief Engineer, Water and Sanitation Division, Ministry of Works and Human Settlement


A Bhutanese woman stands by her pour flush latrine, which has become difficult to maintain due to scarce water supply (SNV / Aidan Dockery)

SNV’s projects focus on improving access to equitable and sustainable safely managed sanitation and hygiene services. Climate projections indicate that temperatures and wet season rainfall are increasing in these rural communities, while dry season rainfall is decreasing in Bhutan. Climate hazards – floods, droughts, landslides and glacial lake outburst floods – are already impeding WASH services in the project areas. The most vulnerable people, including women, girls, people with disabilities and those that live in remote areas, will likely face the highest burden from climate change impacts.



The Towards Climate-Resilient Inclusive WASH Services in Rural Bhutan project aims to reach the following beneficiaries by the end of 2024:


Direct beneficiaries: 88,246*

  • women and girls: 42,746
  • men and boys: 45,500
  • people with a disability: 7,676

Indirect beneficiaries: 477,507*



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SNV Netherlands Development Organisation
Public Health Engineering Division, Ministry of Health (PHED/MoH) logo

UTS logo

Water and Sanitation Division, Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (WSD/MOWHS) logo
Disabled People’s Organisation of Bhutan (DPOB) logo
CBM Logo
Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) logo

Australia's development assistance program is investing in Bhutan to achieve these outcomes. Water for Women is proud to be partnering with SNV in Dagana, Zhemgang and Trashigang, Bhutan along with their partners, Water and Sanitation Division, Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Public Health Engineering Division, Ministry of Health, District and sub-district administration of Dagana, Zhemgang and Trashigang districts, University of Technology Sydney - Institute for Sustainable Futures, CBM, Royal Society for Protection of Nature and Disabled People’s Organisation of Bhutan.

Feature photo: A woman accesses water from a tap stand in rural Zhemgang (SNV Bhutan / Tobden)


*Project targets are based on partner Civil Society Organisations (CSO) baseline studies. Project targets are updated periodically in response to changes in context as appropriate. To see our latest progress towards targets, see our progress.

[1] Royal Government of Bhutan, Third National Communication from Bhutan to the UNFCCC, 2020, National Environment Commission and Royal Government of Bhutan, 2020.

[2] The projected annual average increase in temperature under the RCP 4.5 pathway ranges from 0.80C to 2.80C during 2021-2100. The RCP 8.5 pathway shows an increase of about 0.80C to more than 3.20C towards the end of the century. the Climate Change Knowledge Portal (CCKP) modelling, there will be an increase in precipitation under all emission pathways. The median annual precipitation is projected to increase by 10% under the RCP 6.0 pathway and 11% under the RCP8.5 pathway.

[3] World Bank Group, Climate Risk Country Profile: Bhutan, World Bank Group and Asian Development Bank, 2021.

[4] World Bank Group, Climate Change Knowledge Portal, n.d., website accessed May 2023.

[5] C Wangmo, 147 water sources dried, 2,317 drying up, Kuensel, 28 May 2021.

[6] Royal Government of Bhutan, Dzongkhag Overview, Rural Water Supply Baseline Information as of 2014, Ministry of Health, 2015.

Royal Government of Bhutan, National Rural Water Supply Status, Ministry of Health, 2015.

[7] SNV and Selme Consulting, Climate change and its impact on WASH systems and services in Bhutan, SNV and Selme Consulting, Thimphu, May 2022.

[8] Water for Women, Bhutan boosts happiness quotient with 100% improved sanitation declaration on World Toilet Day, Water for Women website (web article), 27 November 2022.

[9] Royal Government of Bhutan, Water Flagship Program, Access to 24x7 Safe Drinking Water with Irrigation, Bhutan Department of Engineering Services, Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, May 2020.

[10] UNDP Bhutan, The Value of Water in Bhutan, UNDP Bhutan, 22 March 2021.

[11] Royal Government of Bhutan, Dzongkhag Overview, Rural Water Supply Baseline Information as of 2014, Ministry of Health, 2015.

Royal Government of Bhutan, National Rural Water Supply Status, Ministry of Health, 2015.

[12] Alpine zone (above 3,500m) where summers are short and cool, and winters are cold with significant snowfall; the temperate zone (1,800m to 3,500m) with cool or cold winters, hot summers, and more moderate rains; the subtropical zone (below 1,800m) where it is warmer in winter, hot and very humid with heavy rainfall in summer.

[13] According to the Third National Communication to the UNFCCC, 2020.


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