|Figure 5: Location of Bhutan
The Bhutan State of Environment Report (UNEP RRC.AP 2001) was prepared as a response to the recommendations in Agenda 21 of the Earth Summit. The process was initiated by UNEP in association with the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP) and the Royal Government of Bhutan, with the financial support of the Norwegian Agency for Development Co-operation (NORAD). The National Environment Council (NEC), under the Royal Government of Bhutan, was the national focal government agency for the implementation of the project. Because of lack of institutional capacity and human resources, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) from India, a GEO Collaborating Centre was involved in the preparation of the Bhutan SoE report. The report’s objective was to identify the key priority environmental issues, provide guidelines for environmental planning and policy development, and identify alternative actions as options to offset negative environmental trends.
When it was done
The IEA process in Bhutan was started in mid-1999 and the report was launched in August 2001.
Members of assessment team
Bhutan’s members of the assessment team came from the National Environment Council Secretariat and from a number of ministries. TERI was represented by 11 team members.
Major environmental issues assessed
- Rural urban migration
- Land degradation
- Air pollution
- Water pollution
- Solid waste management
Bhutan has made remarkable progress in human as well as economic development. The government of Bhutan is committed to maintaining a harmony between economic forces, spiritual and cultural values and the environment through its “middle path” approach. However, with the expansion of industry, agriculture and urbanization, the country faces a number of challenges.
Land degradation is a priority issue in Bhutan. It can be attributed to deforestation, unsustainable fuel wood extraction, shifting cultivation, encroachment into forests, forest fires, overgrazing and non-adoption of adequate soil conservation measures. The strong conservation ethic of the Bhutanese people and the political will of its government are having an impact on the preservation of forests. The national assembly has mandated that at least 60 per cent of Bhutan remain under forest cover.
Deforestation is taking place mainly due to infrastructure development, expansion of industrial and agricultural activities, and increasing urbanization. The strong conservation ethics of the Bhutanese people and the political will of its government are the greatest contributing factors to the preservation of the forests. The National Assembly has mandated the country to maintain a minimum of 60 per cent of the land area under forest cover for all times. Different acts and programmes have been prescribed by the Royal Government of Bhutan to minimize the rate of deforestation.
Urbanization is another important challenge. Rural-urban migration increases pressure on urban infrastructure and services and poses environmental problems.
Air pollution in Bhutan can be attributed to rapid urbanization, increasing industrial activities and vehicles emissions. The burning of wood in bhukharis and the use of diesel vehicles are the main sources of air pollution.
Fresh water is abundant in Bhutan. At present, river water quality is reasonably good since no polluting industries are located upstream. But rapid urbanization and industrialization could create pressure on valuable water resources.
Solid waste management is an emerging issue in most urban areas in Bhutan. The magnitude of the problem is small in rural areas, but is growing significantly in urban areas. To minimize solid waste problems in the future, reduction in waste generation would be an important factor.
While economic development is important to improve quality of life, strong policies, planning and institutional mechanisms, in addition to political will, are essential to preserve socio-cultural and biological diversity. Systematic integrated planning needs to include environmental issues, policy, technological intervention and institutional mechanisms. This requires a coordinated and integrated planning process to ensure maximized positive socio-economic impacts and minimized negative environmental impacts. There is a need for an effective IEA to inform this process.
The SoE preparation process not only provided useful training on reporting and data collection for Bhutanese officials, but also helped the public in Bhutan understand the importance of SoE reports and their implications for the day-to-day decision making process.
The initiative has enhanced know-how in Bhutan to carry out IEA. The exercise helped pilot and formalize environmental assessment and reporting in Bhutan. The tools for assessment and reporting employed in the process were seen to have potential in the day-to-day work of public agencies and since the report was published, the Government of Bhutan has made use of these enhanced capacities.
Impact and follow-up
The IEA helped the Royal Government of Bhutan realize the importance of environmental data for the decision making. A project supported by the Danish International Development Agency was designed to establish an environment information system in the National Environment Council, intended to strengthen environment assessment and reporting. This project is currently being implemented.
In recognition of the importance of the SoE report, the Royal Government has started and is partly funding a 2nd SoE report. This time, all the resource persons and institutions involved are from Bhutan.
Discuss some of the important lessons learned from Bhutan’s example of a national GEO assessment. What role do you think that government participation played in the assessment process? What do you see as the most successful elements of this assessment? Why do you feel that way?