Protecting children with climate resilient WASH services

An eco-friendly heat pump enhances the wellbeing of child monks

A child monk washes his hands with soap
UNICEF Bhutan/2022/SPelden
22 March 2022

Talakha, Thimphu: For years, the monks of Talakha monastic school in Thimphu were managing the cold winter months with little or no hot water. The geysers installed at the school were old and damaged and the monks had to collect firewood to heat water in barrels for bathing.

Home to about 28 monks including three teachers, the Talakha monastic school is located at 3,080m in Thimphu, about 13km drive away from the capital city. The lack of heating facilities often meant compromising on the hygiene and sanitation of the monks. Collecting firewood and heating water meant taking time off from the monks’ studies.

To provide an eco-friendly and sustainable water heating system to support the WASH needs of the monks, the Religion and Health Project of the Central Monastic Body in partnership with UNICEF piloted the installation of a heat pump at the monastic school in October 2020.

“The heat pump has been very helpful in maintaining the hygiene of our monks,” says the head of the school Lam Kencho Tshering. ”We have enough hot water round the clock to meet the needs of all our monks, to keep our surrounding clean and we don’t need to collect firewood anymore.”

A child monk washes his hands with soap
UNICEF Bhutan/2022/SPelden

The time that was earlier spent collecting firewood and heating water, he says, is now spent on learning. “Collecting firewood and making fire also mean killing insects and exposing ourselves to smoke inhalation. Having the heat pump saved us from that.”

Climate change is a direct threat to a child’s ability to survive, grow, and thrive. Most strikingly, they are felt through water. Piloting the installation of the heat pump at the monastic school is both a response to the sanitation needs of the monks and to finding solutions to mitigate climate-related risks to WASH systems.

The 300-liter heat pump installed at the monastery is eco-friendly, saves energy, safe to use, negligible maintenance, durable while providing hot water round the clock.  Heat pump water heaters work by reversing the natural heat flow from a lower to a higher useful temperature from the surrounding air to heat the water, with minimal use of electricity, which means they move energy instead of generating it.

Lam Kencho Tshering says it takes about 30 minutes to heat enough water for all monks at the school. “We have also noticed a reduction in power consumption,” he says.

A heat pump installed outside the toilet
UNICEF Bhutan/2022/SPelden

In the past, older monks practiced in monasteries located away from the communities but with time, parents started enrolling young children in monasteries, says the manager of Religion and Health Programme at the Central Monastic Body, Lopon Sherab Dorji.

“This means the teachers have to care for the child monks and nuns, teach them about personal hygiene and staying healthy while performing prayers and rituals for the communities,” Lopon Sherab Dorji said. “Taking all these factors into consideration, we piloted the heat pump at Talakha monastic school to see if this could be replicated in other monastic schools.”

Learning from Talaka’s experience, he says that similar heat pumps in five monastic institutions are planned in 2022, could also be helpful in nunneries to help maintain sanitation and menstrual hygiene needs of the nuns.

“Until now there has no major problems with the heat pump. The young monks are able to maintain personal hygiene, which prevents sanitation related diseases, and they can study well without having to visit hospitals,” Lopon Sherab Dorji said.

The monastic school was chosen for the pilot project given its location at a high altitude and accessibility. “The heat pump serves several purposes – it saves energy, is safe to the environment, reduce use of solid fuel, reduce child exposure to smoke from burning firewood and provides enough hot water to meet the hygiene needs of the young monks,” says the Central Monk Body’s engineer Tenzin Wangchuk.

A monk standing in the bathroom
UNICEF Bhutan/2022/SPelden

One of the monks at the school, Chenga Tshering, 13, says they are happy and grateful to have regular supply of hot water. “We wash our clothes and bath regularly and stay clean every day,” he says. “We look good when we are neat and clean.”

It was to protect the health and wellbeing of children like Chenga Tshering and to adapt to the water effects of climate change that UNICEF partnered with the Religion and Health Project to pilot the heat pump at Talakha monastic school.

“Climate change is a direct threat to a child’s ability to survive, grow, and thrive and its impacts are felt the most in the WASH sector,” says UNICEF Bhutan’s WASH Officer Sonam Gyaltshen. “The pilot project at Talakha monastic school gives us good insight into making WASH services resilient to climate change while protecting the health of our children.”

A group of monks
UNICEF Bhutan/2022/SPelden