There are several environmental issues in Bhutan. In addition to contemporary worries like industrial pollution, wildlife conservation, and climate change that endanger Bhutan’s population and biodiversity, traditional firewood gathering, crop and flock protection, and waste disposal are among the country’s most urgent difficulties.
Environmental concerns now also extend to land and water use, in both rural and urban contexts. Apart from these broad concerns, there are specific ones that are more common in Bhutan’s increasingly industrialized and urbanized regions, like the availability of landfills and air and noise pollution.
Environmental challenges often disproportionately affect those with the least financial and political clout. In both rural and urban regions, land and water use have come to be considered environmental concerns. Urban areas are also often polluted by air and noise.
Bhutan faces a number of environmental issues, including habitat loss and biodiversity, land degradation, excessive fuel wood usage, and conflicts between people and wildlife. Poor people are more affected than wealthy and politically powerful people.
Table of Contents
9 Most Prominent Environmental Issues in Bhutan
- Air Pollution
- Burning of Firewood
- Industrial Pollution
- Urban Waste
- Noise Pollution
- Water Use
- Climate Change
1. Air Pollution
Bhutan is experiencing an increasing problem with air pollution as a result of growing industrialization and urbanization. The primary cause of air pollution in cities is the enormous number of vehicles.
Since 2006, there has been a noticeable increase in air pollution above Bhutan, which is mostly the result of outside sources in India. The pollution takes the form of a brown haze. Reduced agricultural productivity and heightened public health concerns were the outcomes of this air pollution.
With three of the four cement plants in Bhutan operating without contemporary emission controls, these facilities have been identified as some of the main contributors to household air pollution.
The NEC conducts semiannual site audits to ensure compliance with current regulations and may levy very insignificant fines; yet, the dust still causes poor living conditions.
The Pasakha industrial center has been the subject of complaints from several locals, although enforcement has been depicted in Bhutanese media as being indifferent.
Due to a shortage of approved landfills or disposal facilities, several towns and smaller villages in Bhutan have pits or areas for burning waste through 2011. Both air and ground toxicity are increased by the activity, together with ambient air pollution.
The kingdom now has 16,335 vehicles, up from 14,206 in the previous year due to a 14% increase in the number of cars. Thimphu and Phuntsholing have the highest concentrations of vehicles.
About 45% of all vehicles in Thimphu are two-wheelers, followed by cars and jeeps at 35% and buses at 2%. The number of cars on the road has increased pollution, which is bad for the environment and human health.
2. Burning of Firewood
During the winter months in the Thimphu Valley, more than 10,184.22 cubic feet, or 42 truckloads, of firewood are burned for bukharis (steel ovens) in Bhutan. Every home burns roughly 2.614 cubic feet of firewood each day on average.
The yearly firewood use of Thimphus is roughly 916560 cubic feet. High pollution levels are produced in the mornings throughout the winter by burning firewood (National Environment Commission, NEC, 1999).
Traditional homes are built mostly in rural areas using only wood, which means that logging is necessary to provide the necessary amount of wood, degrading forest cover and contributing to forest loss.
3. Industrial Pollution
Bhutan’s industrial activity has increased dramatically. There were 4,394 industries in 1997, compared to 742 in 1990. During that time, the small-scale sector has expanded 17 times. In the past 20 years, industries reliant on minerals have expanded more quickly. The industrial sector’s share of the GDP increased from 0.01% in 1982 to 3.2% in 1992.
Cement facilities release three main types of pollutants into the atmosphere: particulate matter, fugitive emissions, and gaseous pollutants. Newspapers are frequently filled with complaints from people whose crops are not growing as well as their health due to dust from plants and automobiles.
There are four chemical industries in Bhutan. These chemical enterprises manufacture activated carbon, rosin, turpentine, calcium carbide, ferrosilica, and plaster of Paris. Thus, the disruption of the surrounding environment and work zone emissions are the major problems.
Particulate emissions and dust are the main contaminants. The chemical industry also releases a number of additional gases, including sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide.
Due to its abundance of minerals, Bhutan also has a thriving mining industry. Dolomite, quartzite, coal, gypsum, and limestone are the main minerals that are mined. The majority of these minerals are mined for internal use, while some are also exported, particularly to the Indian states that are close by.
The main issues brought on by these mining sectors include runoff and reclamation from mined regions, which results in soil erosion and air pollution, as well as the handling of overburden and drilling debris.
4. Urban Waste
At an average household output of 0.96 kilograms (2.1 lb), Thimphu alone produced around 51 tonnes (8,000 kg) of rubbish per day in 2011—a nearly twofold increase over the three years prior.
Authorities in Thimphu calculated that biodegradable organic garbage accounted for 49% of all refuse, followed by paper (25.3%), plastics (13.7%), and glass (3.6%).
Memelakha Landfill, the only authorized disposal site in the capital, reached capacity in 2002, which resulted in overflowing and illicit dumping there as well as at other locations near Thimphu.
The government’s response, the “polluters pay” program, was implemented until 2009 but did not provide the expected outcomes. Thimphu started a funded pilot project for separating biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste in order to address various waste types and tackle refuse issues more successfully.
In an effort to reduce the amount of plastic in its garbage, the municipal authorities of Thimphu have also invested in a shredder for PET bottles, which will make recycling in India easier.
Nevertheless, everyone’s compliance with proper garbage disposal—from street vendors to regular citizens—remained an issue.
Despite water restrictions, Thimphu saw strong growth in the late 2000s. Due to garbage and human waste, the Wangchu River downstream from Thimphu saw severe degradation.
In November 2011, garbage outlets were turned into collection chambers, and local refuse collection programs were implemented in an attempt to stop downstream damage.
The distance to landfills in some places with permitted dumping sites makes them less viable than dumping illegally into rivers or by the side of the road.
Because of this, towns outside of cities face negative effects from disposing of waste in the communal water supply, which raises the need for alternate water sources.
Villages close to approved open-air landfills and burning sites also report runoff toxicity and pollution, as well as an abundance of scavenger activity that could be harmful to residents’ health.
5. Noise Pollution
Since loudspeakers, headphones, and roaring motors have become commonplace, noise pollution has been recognized by Bhutanese media as a threat to the environment, with detrimental effects ranging from hearing to distraction.
6. Water Use
For example, citizens in Bhutan are being confronted with real and pressing environmental challenges such as drying water supplies and competition for water use between residents and industry.
Water scarcity has become a common occurrence in rural settlements, and many of the new villages created via internal relocation also experience water scarcity.
Furthermore, Thimphu’s urbanization and changes in land ownership, particularly land pooling, have made issues with water availability more complex. Up until 2011, the infrastructure in smaller villages, such as waste management and water supply, was still lacking.
7. Climate Change
In Bhutan, air pollution has an impact on climate change. Numerous infectious diseases are influenced by climate, and some of these are among the leading causes of death and morbidity in developing nations.
Possible outcomes of climate change include deaths from thermal stress, including hypothermia and heat stroke, deaths or injuries from floods, storms, and droughts, and a variety of diseases that affect human life, including diarrheal illnesses (food and waterborne transmission), influenza (airborne transmission), dengue (female Aedes mosquitoes), meningococcal meningitis (airborne transmission), and cholera (food and waterborne transmission).
Bhutan has seen multiple Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF), flash floods, and landslides throughout the years that have destroyed homes, destroyed paddy crops, damaged essential infrastructure, and claimed lives. These disasters may be linked to climate change or weather-related phenomena.
Landslides and flash floods are frequent during the monsoon season, which lasts from May to August. It has resulted in millions of dollars worth of damage and around 100,000 deaths.
Homes suffered complete or partial destruction, and both dry land and wetlands were washed away. The homes were impacted by the loss of crops like potatoes, orange trees, maize, and paddy.
Raising livestock is an essential rural activity, particularly cattle. Over 100,000 cattle are thought to exist in the nation, and as the population of people grows, so too will the number of cattle.
This enormous amount of grazing, which goes much above the carrying capacity, puts a great deal of strain on forestland, degrading it in the process.
Bhutan’s signature feature, biodiversity, is in danger due to both climate change and human activity. In the 1960s, the Royal Government started designating protected areas as a solution to these issues.
The Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation, a division of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Forestry Services Division, has been in charge of overseeing Bhutan’s protected areas since 1992. The Fund redesigned and scaled back its vast park system in 1993 to improve ecological management and representation.
But through 2008, protected areas grew dramatically as Wangchuck Centennial Park was established, covering 4,914 square kilometers (1,897 sq mi) in northern Bhutan. All of the sanctuaries and parks are linked, either directly or through “biological corridors.”
Some people believe that Bhutan is the world’s best example of dedicating a significant amount of a nation’s land to preserve the ecosystems of protected areas.
By 2011, the Fund had taught 24 post-graduate specialists, hired 189 field workers, and offered more than 300 short scientific courses.
Almost the size of Eswatini and more than 42% of Bhutan’s overall area of 38,394 square kilometers (14,824 sq mi), the Fund alone oversees a total protected area of 16,396.43 square kilometers (6,330.70 sq mi).
These protected areas—with the exception of Torsa Strict Nature Reserve and Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary—are either surrounded by or occupied by populated areas.
As of 2011, poaching and habitat degradation, along with human development, pose a serious threat to the survival of endangered species, such as the uncommon white-bellied heron.
In Bhutan, poaching affects the ecology both inside the nation and outside its boundaries. A lot of species are taken for their purported therapeutic qualities. Wildlife products such as tiger bones, musk, cordyceps, and rhinoceros horn, though protected within Bhutan, are highly sought-after outside the country.
Although permeable borders are sometimes held responsible for the trafficking of wildlife that has been poached, Bhutan has markets for some protected species, such as cordyceps.
The situation os Bhutan has gotten to the point where there is a need for all hands to be on deck to rescue the nation from environmental degradation. The government has to play its own art in the creation of a sustainable policy that promotes the conservation and preservation of natural resources.
Individual residents have to also partake in this process. The citizens have to be informed about the environmental challenges the nation faces and what alternatives can be taken or invested in to curb this menace.
I believe that the involvement of all parties in this transition would yield great dividends. Remain sustainable.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.