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Bhutan is situated in the Eastern Himalaya bordered by mountains on all sides with its rich biodiversity and large forest covers, in fact Bhutan is known to have the highest fraction of land in protected area as well as the highest proportion of forest cover of any Asian countries.(Wikipedia) Over the last few centuries, Bhutan have been subjected to modern development and is still an ongoing process but the Nation development is strongly guided by principles of “Gross National Happiness” which emphasizes preservation of both natural and cultural heritage. Like any developing country, Bhutan has also had to suffer the effects that came along with development.Some of the major issues that arose due to these development activities in Bhutan were deforestation, air pollution, improper waste disposal, the urban environment and even the effects of global climate change are becoming a growing concern in the country.I.
ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES IN BHUTAN.
The dependence on firewood and the need for agricultural land had led to a major destruction of many forest covers in the pasts. Now with the availability Hydro-powered electricity within the country such practices are less frequent.Deforestation is still prevalent even now as the cost of urbanization. Forested lands are being cleared for construction of roads, buildings, etc.
Other factors contributing to this destruction is the illegal logging of timbers, over exploitation of non-timber forest products (medicinal/aromatic plants, mushrooms, ferns, bamboo, etc) and also forest fires.This has caused the loss of a number of biodiversity and natural habitat. It also led to the degradation of ecological services such as Soil erosion control, protection and cover.To address to these environmental issue the government of Bhutan initiated reforestation and the establishment of National parks funded by Bhutan Trust Fund, where the plants and wildlife are preserved in their natural habitat.
Bhutan currently has ten protected areas covering almost the entire Southern and Northern regions of the country Bhutan protected area map.
B) AIR POLLUTION
The air quality in Bhutan had been considered fresh or clean for the many years and air pollution had not been such a major threat to the natural environment or the people in Bhutan, but now with the rapid development taking place especially in urban cities like Thimphu and Phuentsholing and with industrialization, the atmosphere in the country is under great pressure.A large amount of the pollutant present in the atmosphere in the country comes from an external source, which is the neighbouring country, India. It has accumulated in a brown haze in the atmosphere right above Bhutan.
This has caused poor production of crops and health related issues in the country. [source: Wikipedia/air pollution in Bhutan]The primary polluter of the air in Bhutan are mostly exhaust emissions from diesel and petrol vehicles, windblown dust, industrial emission, smoke from fires, etc.The four cement plants (3 out of which are running without modern emission control [source: Wikipedia]) present within the country are the main cause of domestic pollution. The air in those industrialized areas are polluted with industrial wastes and gases emitted by the burning of slag, micro silica powder, steel, ferroalloy, carbides etc.This has raised complaints from the residents and the government has planned an Industrial waste repository.
National Environment Commission set up stations to monitor air quality in urban and industrialized regions of the country (Thimphu, Phuentsholing, Pasakha & Tashigang ), where the quality of the air will be monitored for 24 hours.
С) WASTE DISPOSAL
The majority of the wastes are produced within the urban cities. Thimphu itself produces 51 tonnes of wastes daily(2011). 49% of Thimphu total wastes were biodegradable wastes, 25.3% were paper , 13.7% were plastic and 3.6% were glass. The capital’s only designated dumping site, Memelakha Landfill met its capacity in 2002, leading to overflowing and illegal dumping there and at other sites around Thimphu. The government reacted to this in polluters pay” policy that did not prove too effective since the waste production did not decrease.
The government then came up with the system of sorting and separating the wastes according to its state of degradability. Thimphu municipal authorities also addressed the ubiquitous plastic in its refuse with a shredder for Pet bottles to facilitate transport to recycling in India. [ Wikipedia ]Still, compliance with proper waste disposal remained a challenge within all segments, from street vendors to ordinary citizens because the Bhutan having a poor literacy rate, most Bhutanese are inclined to their old traditional methods.A recently established new private waste management firm in Thimphu, Greener Way Bhutan comprising of rag pickers, scrap dealers, sweepers, caretakers of offices and organizations pushes to handle to growing waste problem in the country.
D) CLIMATE CHANGE
The alteration occurring in the pattern of climate change due to global warming is causing instability in the agriculture of Bhutan.
The rate of productivity is decreasing, farmers are having difficulty earning their livelihood.The rising temperature on the earth poses a major threat to the entire nation. Warming and recession of many glaciers in Bhutan can lead to Glacial outburst, flooding and damaging properties and lives in its path. It was reported that the frequency has increased, retreating 30-40m per year (UN,2008)This became a growing concern for the nation, the government ministers establish the Southeast Asia Regional Health Emergency Fund in Thimphu in September 2007.
Similarly, the member nations of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) adopted bilateral agreements including measures on climate change and glaciers at its summit in April 2010. [ Wikipedia ]E.URBAN ENVIRONMENT.The urban regions in Bhutan are mainly Thimphu and Phuentsholing. Urbanization is taking place at a very rapid rate; this has resulted in a major urban population growth due to rural-urban migration. This has led to the emergence of many environmental issues such as air, water and noise pollution, water shortage, more waste generation, congestion of traffic and buildings and land degradation.A great pressure is added on to the land and water resources.
Due to larger population and availability of many shops selling packet goods, consumption is more in the urban areas, and therefore more waste production which are disposed in the roadsides, drains, river almost anywhere convenient for the person disposing the waste.In order to accommodate the large urban population and development activities , agricultural lands are being degraded, extraction activities such as harvesting of timber and collection sand and stones from riverbanks have increased in order to meet the construction demands of the urban centers. [ Biodiversity in Bhutan]II. National Environmental strategy.The government of Bhutan has taken certain measures and adopted certain strategies/policies to overcome these issues concerning the environment of Bhutan, one such being the National Environment Strategy.The National environment strategy titled The Middle Path. (1998)Middle Path Strategy In order to achieve sustainable development, natural resources such as forest, water, air, biodiversity, soil, minerals and the overall integrity of the environment shall not be degraded.
In line with the governments Middle path strategy, economic development and environment conservation shall receive equal priority. It identifies three main avenues for such development: – Hydropower development based on integrated watershed management, agricultural development based on sustainable practices and industrial development based on effective pollution control measures and environmental legislation. [ Biodiversity Action Plan 2009]During the 33rd Board Meeting held on 9 May 2012, the following four projects had been approved for the grant cycle of December 2011 to May 2012:1. Door to Door Waste Management Service,2. Water Resource Inventory to Assess the Availability of Water for Various Uses,3. Comprehensive Assessment of Climate Change Impacts on Endemic Plant Diversity along the Bio-geographic Elevation gradient in Four Eco-floristic Zones in Bhutan, and4.
Plantation by Farmers Group of Phongmey and Radhi Gewog.The environment in Bhutan so far has been well under control and monitored constantly by government organizations such as National Environment Commission , Ministry of Health for chemical and radioactive waste, Ministry of forestry and agriculture, Wildlife fund, etc.
Royal Government of Bhutan. Biodiversity Action Plan 2009.