The environment pays back

Bhutan for a long time has maintained an excellent environmental track record which has been recognized and admired worldwide. Bhutan is the only country in the world where 60 percent of its forests are protected by the Constitution.

This clean and green environ-mental policy, though economi-cally tough in the short term has brought the country other impor¬tant benefits like clean air, clean water and with it a healthy envi¬ronment and people.

Over time such protection of the environment will also reap long term economic benefits like eco tourism, less natural disasters etc.

However, as Bhutan’s popula¬tion grows along with its economic needs our forests and environment will see increasing pressures to give way to economic development and economic activities.

With Bhutan being a democ-racy most politicians will tend to be populist and so may not mind sacrificing the environment for votes.

For those not convinced, the unanimous political agreement between both the current and former government over the Shingkhar-Gorgan road cutting through a sensitive ecological zone should serve as early proof of the things to come.

Furthermore in the mathemat-ics of votes and elections there can be no doubt that rural votes hold sway in both national and local government elections. It is also here in the rural areas that there is increasing human-wildlife conflict and this is already a potent politi¬cal issue during elections. This is coupled with pressure from those communities staying in protected areas where they face certain re¬strictions.

There can be no doubt that Bhutan’s conservation success story can only be sustained and strengthened if the local commu¬nities and villages benefit from conserving these areas. They should in fact benefit enough to offset any losses due to natural in¬cidents or depredation.

Therefore, the ‘Bhutan For Life’ project which aims to do exactly that by investing in such areas is a welcome move. The project has the right idea in taking on local communities as protectors and partners rather than problems and opponents in the efforts to promote conservation. By invest¬ing in such areas the project aims to create a strong and sustainable linkage between environmental conservation and economic liveli¬hood for the people.

The project also has much wid¬er ramifications for Bhutan’s larger economy. A major source of river water for our hydropower projects are not just snows in the moun¬tains but in fact watershed areas where natural springs and rivulets add to the rivers’s volume. By pre-serving these watershed areas we would therefore also be ensuring the long term viability and success of our vital hydro projects as well.

By the last calculation Bhu-tan’s ecological services was worth around USD 15.5 bn to the world every year in terms of soaking up carbon, providing clean water and others. However, until now while there has been plenty of praise there has been little by way of ac¬tion or funds to support Bhutan. This fund is now proof that the world is recognizing that coun¬tries like Bhutan should not only be recognized but also supported.

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”

Chris Maser

 

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