Protecting children from the impacts of climate change
How UNICEF’s WASH responses are mitigating the impacts of climate change on children in monastic schools.
Sakteng: Sonam Dorji, 15, lives in Sakteng, a remote highland community in Trashigang district in far eastern Bhutan, where summers are cold and winters, frigid. The community depends on yaks for livelihood, so the colder the weather, the longer Sonam’s parents are away from home in the mountains.
With his parents away, Sonam, like several other boys in the community dropped school to join the monastic school. He was ten. “ When I was in school and my parents away with the yaks, I became lonely at home,” says Sonam. “So I joined the monastic school because my friends also became monks.”
Sonam sees his parents once a year when they come home to collect their ration. “With climate change, our parents have to go further up into the mountains with the yaks and they are away from home longer,” he says. “Here, I live and learn with my friends, but it is always cold.”
Besides studying and performing rituals for the community, the monks also have to fetch firewood to heat water for bathing and washing. This often meant compromising on the hygiene and sanitation of the monks while collecting firewood.
Heating water also took time off from the monks’ studies. “Some of us spend a whole day heating water,” says Rinzin Tashi, 18, another student who joined the monastery after dropping school.
The Mersak Namgyal Choeling Goenzin Dratshang (monastic school) has 40 monks and the youngest is eight-years old. Most children are from humble families and left to the care of the monastic school and the impacts of climate change on has further increased their vulnerabilities.
To adapt to the impacts of climate change and help the child monks maintain personal hygiene, UNICEF in partnership with the Religion and Health Project of the Central Monastic Body has installed an environment-friendly heat pump for hot water at the monastic school.
The 300-liter heat pump is eco-friendly, safe to use, requires negligible maintenance and durable while providing hot water round the clock. With a 65 per cent energy saving capacity, the heat pump work by reversing the natural heat flow from a lower to a higher temperature from the surrounding air to heat the water, which means they move energy instead of generating it.
“The heat pump has really benefitted the children here because with the availability of hot water, children are able to maintain hygiene,” says a teacher, Phuntsho Wangdi. “Earlier it was challenging as children had to fetch firewood to heat the water or melt the snow.”
With the heat pump installed, children use hot water in the afternoon and after classes for bathing and laundry.
Sonam says the hygiene and sanitation situation at the monastic school has improved after they got the heat pump. “We don’t have to fetch firewood anymore and have easy access to hot water to stay clean,” he says. “We do laundry regularly and the hygiene has improved our health as well as our focus on our studies.”
In highland communities like Sakteng, climate change is a direct threat to a child’s ability to survive, grow, and thrive. The installation of heat pumps at monastic schools is both a response to the sanitation needs of the monks and to finding solutions to mitigate climate-related risks to WASH systems.
To support children in monastic institutions access safe and clean water and live in a clean environment, UNICEF has to date installed heat pumps in six monastic schools benefitting 304 child monks and nuns across Bhutan.
With friends and caregivers around, children like Sonam and Rinzin say they feel at home at the monastic school. “Be it summer or winter, it is always cold in Sakteng, so the heat pump is a boon for us,” says Sonam.