This paper in the journal Current Science presents the findings of a study that aimed at taking an overview of the water resources and their management in the East and South districts of Sikkim and understand issues related to quality and quantity of water resources in the area.
Sikkim, a northeastern state in the Eastern Himalayas, is important not only because it shares boundaries with three nations, viz. Nepal, Bhutan and China, but also due to its immense biodiversity. The state displays a number of contrasts with respect to water resources with waterfalls, springs, rivers and lakes that attract tourists and revenue on one hand and recurring landslides, blocked roadways, water contamination and water scarcity, on the other.
A comparative field study was conducted during January 2011, of available water in Namchi, Gangtok and Singtam areas of Sikkim and the quality and quantity of water, and their time-dependent variations during the year were assessed. Data on pH and coliform were used to assess quality, whereas questionnaire modules were used to find out the abundance of water for domestic use on various scales.
The study found that there was a significant variation in terms of water quality and quantity in different areas of Sikkim. It was found that water management in terms of supply of water to all cities and households and the existing infrastructure was inadequate to meet local demands.
The household surveys in the locality, i.e. in Singtam market, Sirwani, Dalep and lower Bermiok area, revealed the suffering of the people due to recurrent landslides, unsafe accommodations, ambiguities in compensation for relocation, human rights and security issues, employment insecurity and many other factors that need immediate attention.
The recent earthquake had led to the destruction of water pipelines and almost no supply of drinking water in the region. The majority of the population in the affected area relied on water streams and falls, which had become muddy due to consequent landslides. There was insufficient information about water security and harvesting in Sikkim Himalaya.
The study revealed that the region, despite being a water feeder to planar India, suffered water shortages and crisis in the South district, one of the most populated districts after East Sikkim. Many people in the vicinity were not aware of the available water quality and water conservation techniques. Majority of water samples not only contained coliform bacillus, but also had high basicity; only a few exceptions were found.
The paper ends by arguing that in order to improve the quality and quantity of water in the region there is need for an integrated approach, planning of research into water resources and their management and educational outreach and that studies of this this type may help policymakers as well as the public to understand the implications of receding water resources in the mountains and to search for potential alternatives before any severe crises occurs.