Drought and water scarcity – a look back at what was done

droughtUnlike in the previous years where land management campaign was conducted to mark the World Day to Combat Desertification and Land Degradation, Bhutan has celebrated the day this year, by looking at what has been done to combat land degradation.

Bhutan as party to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) since August 2003, celebrates the World Day to Combat Desertification and Land Degradation, every year on June 17.

On Monday, Bhutan observed the day with the global community under the theme ‘Drought and Water Scarcity.’ The day was marked with special advocacy and awareness programs like national level land management campaign (LMC) and media broadcast.

However, with the general round of elections around the corner, the ministry of agriculture and forests (MoAF) was not able be organize LMC to mark the day. Instead, the national soil services centre (NSSC) of the department of agriculture presented the achievement highlights of the initiatives undertaken by MoAF to combat land degradation in the country.

The report states that the ministry has recognized the importance of land and water management since early 1980s. In order to encourage land development, the land owners in the past were provided with cash incentives. But by the beginning of the 8th Five Year Plan, reports claim that there was a shift in government’s priority towards social sector that resulted in less attention and focus in land and water management.

A major flashflood in 2004 that hit most parts of the country, particularly in the east reminded that sustainable land management is critical. “The monsoon flood caused loss of 9 lives, destroyed 29 houses completely, washed away 664 acres of arable land and damaged 39 irrigation channels and 22 bridges,” the report quoted from a Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) Newsletter.

The main cause, as per the report, was heavy rainfall while unsustainable agricultural practices such as overgrazing, too much exploitation of natural resources, improper management of irrigation water, cultivation on steep slopes, etc., also played a part in the disaster.

“The incident served as an eye opener for both the government and farmers alike,” stated the report.

Following such devastating flash floods and the subsequent Royal Command to assess the impact and implement remedial actions, the MoAF initiated national level LMC in 2005 to create mass awareness on the importance of protecting scarce land resources by sensitizing and mobilizing communities, extensions, researchers, planners and policy makers on soil conservation. It introduced and promoted improved land management technologies suitable to the local environment.

The event also sensitized the public on sharing a collective responsibility, not just of land owners or government, in the management of land and water. The LMC is now institutionalized within local development plans and programs, and organized annually by the gewogs and the dzongkhags. Over the past eight years (2005-2012) the national level LMC was carried out in eight dzongkhags, and has improved more than 114 acres of vulnerable land.

The report also states that other major initiatives were also undertaken which includes medium sized project (MSP) on capacity building and mainstreaming of SLM in Bhutan and sustainable land management. The activities are funded by GEF, UNDP and World Bank.

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