Bhutan is a land renowned for its pristine landscapes, diverse wildlife and its unswerving commitment to biodiversity conservation and cultural preservation. As Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tsobay came through Washington DC in March, he spoke on the history, the present situation, and what lies ahead for a nation that is small in size, but huge on sustainability.
Bhutan: A Legacy of Conservation
In the 1970s, Bhutan’s democratic leaders decreed in their official constitution that a minimum of 60% of the land would be under forest cover. Since then, they have achieved a laudable result, by not only maintaining this target, but exceeding it by 10%.
Today, ecotourism presents a whole new world of opportunity and challenges for the country. Needless to say, the decisions made in this time of dramatic global change concerning ecotourism will be imperative to securing a brighter future for not only Bhutan, but the entire region.
Tourism’s Impact on Bhutan
The wrong type of tourism may mean that this unparalleled natural wonder could be spoiled by forces of human progress. The right type of tourism would mean that it is preserved for and admired by future generations. The right choice here is a no-brainer – all the more reason why so many forces are now acting to ensure this legacy of sustainability lives on. Asides from the sheer magnificence of this region, the benefits afforded from ecotourism provide us with further reasons to care. Bhutan is in one of the world’s top ten most biodiverse regions, a region which provides water for 1/5 of the world’s population – It is even ranked by many studies as the number one happiest country in Asia.
Why Bhutan and Ecotourism Work
On a purely human level, ecotourism has the potential to create phenomenal advantages for the people of Bhutan. Employment opportunities from ecotourism could bring long-term livelihoods for rural communities, improving standards of living all over.
That being said, ecotourism in Bhutan is not without its challenges. In fact, there has been more change in the last 50 years of Bhutan’s history than in the entire 500 years preceding it. This also means that this magnificent part of the world has never been exposed to such large and diverse threats. Among these many threats are climate change and poaching, just as with many neighboring Asian nations.
However, one of the largest challenge may prove to be the change in mindsets and attitudes which have inevitably arisen with the proliferation of globalization. More than 60% of Bhutan’s population is under 35 years old – it’s median age is 22.3 years. Work needs to be done to ensure that the younger generation captures the vision and passion which their ancestors had for their natural land. This is no easy feat, with a huge proportion of Bhutan’s younger citizens moving to the city for work and education – thus increasing their disconnect with the environment. Rural opportunities will be difficult to develop if there is simply nobody left in non-urban areas.
‘Bhutan For Life’
As can be seen, both the challenges and the opportunities presented here are plentiful.
‘Bhutan for Life’, an innovative funding of conservation led by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Royal Government of Bhutan, exists to overcome these challenges while also utilizing the great opportunities existing within its own forests. Among their many goals, ‘Bhutan for Life’ will be preserving the parks, maintaining wildlife and ensuring this can continue, daresay, forever. Much of this will be achieved through what they have describe as balance – that is, balancing economic development with the conservation of natural resources, balancing jobs in the cities with jobs in rural villages, as well as balancing ancient traditions with modern materialistic desires. With this balance in place, they hope that Bhutan will continue to not only remain a natural wonder, but to also establish itself as a beacon of light, pointing other nations towards the achievability of a more sustainable future.