Environment in Bhutan Essay

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In the early 20th century, Bhutan was a Protectorate of Great Britain, who took responsibility for directing Bhutan’s foreign affairs, theoretically leaving internal affairs to the Bhutanese government. They ceded that role to India in 1947, with the relationship formally defined in 1949. Bhutan has one of the smallest and least-developed economies in the world. Some 93 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture, chiefly in subsistence farming and animal husbandry, and there is a substantial lack of modern technology. Only 8.5 percent of Bhutanese are urbanized.

One-fourth of the workforce is engaged in industries, and employers are faced with a massive labor shortage. The economy is highly dependent on regular subsidies from India. With a per capita income of $1,400, Bhutan is ranked 197th of 232 nations in world incomes. A current and ongoing political crisis revolves around the issue of 100,000 Bhutanese refugees of Nepali ethnicity, expelled by Bhutan in the early 1990s, who remain in camps under the administration of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.

Population estimates for Bhutan vary from 810,000 to 2,200,00. Life is harsh in Bhutan, and life expectancy is low at only 54.39 years. On the other hand, infant mortality is high (100.44 deaths per 1,000 live births). Partly for this reason, the fertility rate is also abnormally high at 4.81 children per female. Low literacy rates contribute to the labor shortage. Less than half of the adult population can read and write, and the literacy rate for females is abysmally low (28.1 percent). About 38 percent of Bhutanese lack access to safe drinking water, and 30 percent have no access to improved sanitation. The United Nations Development Project (UNDP) Human Development Reports rank Bhutan 134th in the world in overall quality-of-life issues.

Nestled between China and India, Bhutan controls some of the major passes through the Himalayas. The country is landlocked and has no freshwater resources. The climate is diverse, ranging from tropical in the southern plains to cool winters and hot summers in the central valleys to severe winters and cool summers in the Himalayas. The Kingdom of Bhutan received its name, the “Land of the Thunder Dragon,” from the frequent thunderstorms that occur during the rainy season. Bhutan is also subject to landslides. The terrain is mostly mountainous, interspersed with fertile valleys and savanna. Due to a lack of roads, transportation is difficult.

Health and Environment

In addition to the lack of potable water, soil erosion and land degradation are the major environmental problem for Bhutan. Other problems include air and water pollution, overgrazing, uncontrolled fires, road construction, solid waste management, and poaching. The Glacial Lake Outburst Floods, which are composed of 24 glacial lakes, are in danger of bursting due to climate change. Bhutan ranks in the top 10 countries of the world in species density. To protect these important resources, the National Assembly issued a mandate that forest cover must be maintained at least 60 percent at all times. Bhutan is home to some 200 mammal species that include the golden langur and the clouded leopard. More than 700 bird species and 800-900 butterfly species are also found in Bhutan. Twelve bird species and 22 mammal species are in danger of extinction.

In 1969, the Bhutanese government passed the Bhutan Forest Act and followed it up five years later with the National Forest Policy. It was not until 1998, however, that the government set up a comprehensive framework for environmental policy by strengthening the National Environment Commission and the Nature Conservation Division, which share the responsibility for environmental planning, assessment, and enforcement in Bhutan. The 1998 legislation also established the National Biodiversity Centre. A number of nongovernmental organizations are also active in protecting the environment. Bhutan has signed the following international agreements: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Kyoto Protocol, Endangered Species, and Hazardous Wastes. The Law of the Sea agreement has been signed but not ratified.


  1. Timothy Doyle, Environmental Movements in Minority and Majority Worlds: A Global Perspective (Rutgers University Press, 2005);
  2. Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Asia: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABCCLIO, 2003);
  3. Michael Howard, Asia’s Environmental Crisis (Westview, 1993).

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