Monday, May 20, 2013

Environment and Policy

Saturday, May 18th
     We started our morning at 9:30 A.M. with a presentation by Dr. Samir Patel on the environment in Bhutan. Dr. Patel began by discussing how a smaller population played a key role in the environmental health of the country. The key philosophy was “the lower the population, the less consumption, means less pollution.” This philosophy is beginning to fade as the population in Bhutan is beginning to grow, as well as an increase in developmental activities. Bhutan, however, has a government that prides itself with reference to the country's environmental policies. The country is constitutionally required to keep at least sixty percent of the  country forested. 

     Water is a key resource in Bhutan and hydropower is a major domestic and export product. The country's climatic and geographic conditions make this possible. The monsoons replenish the resource very efficiently as most of the water is stored in the glaciers and then gradually released down the mountains. Like all countries the main source of water pollution is due to industrial effluence. The water quality of rivers tends to deplete as it travels through the towns of Bhutan, but studies show the rivers in Bhutan cleanse naturally. However, this natural cleansing process may not continue if Bhutan's development policies are not managed well.

     The air quality in Bhutan today is not a problem but data shows there are about sixty thousand vehicles and the number increases by ten thousand annually. The growth in Bhutan in the past five years has been very rapid, but because the country's only energy source is hydropower there are no emissions. The geography of Bhutan makes hydro power possible because from north to south the countries elevation changes rapidly from about five thousand meters to one hundred meters above sea level. 

     The rapid change in geography also makes for great biodiversity in Bhutan. Bhutan is not a very large country but contains over seven thousand species of plants and animals. Plants and animals of Bhutan are protected. The environmental policies in Bhutan is part of everyday life. In many countries everyday citizens may not abide by environmental laws; that's not how the Bhutanese behave, they hold the environment close to their hearts.
Juan M.


  1. I wonder if you could say a bit more about the numbers you listed. For example, you say that there are over seven thousand species of plants and animals in Bhutan, but that number sounds (to me!) like it is perhaps quite low, especially given that there are more than 1.5 million species on Earth:

    Did you perhaps mean that there are over 7,000 vertebrates in Bhutan, or do I need to change my view about what is a high number in terms of biodiversity for a region?

    Similarly, not all of the plants and animals are legally protected in Bhutan. So it would be interesting to hear how they make exceptions to their general conservation strategy.

    1. The number of species
      • 105 endemic plants
      • 5603 species of vascular plants
      • 400 lichens
      • 200 mammals
      • And about 700 birds
      The fact that Bhutan is small compared to the world as a whole, does not make the number of species any less impressive. The highlight of the number of species was to highlight the biodiversity, sorry for not including these statistics initially.

      As far as animal conservation, fishing licenses are required (catch-and-release) to manage aquatic resources. Bhutan created conservation zones (animal safe zones) permitting varying levels of human intervention and land use. Core zones in Bhutan are protected and can only be used for scientific research and monitoring. Multiple-use zones support local communities (agriculture, grazing and forest use) as long as conservation principles are followed.

  2. All I can think of is that all that water and steepness would probably be awesome to kayak or float!


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