glofThothormi Lake, one of the GLOF Project sites. Photo © UNDP Bhutan

Bhutan's reputation in environment conservation is testimony of its commitment of pursuing sustainable development. The country has one of the highest proportions of area under protected area system encompassing a continuum representation samples of all major ecosystems found in the country.

% of land area covered by forest: 72.5 %
% of protected area:                  51.4 %
% of population using solid fuels:  70 %
% of people without sustainable access to improved water source: 16 %

The total area under parks and protected areas represent 51% (19,750 sq. km) of the country, of which close to 10% consists of biological corridors allowing free movement between the protected areas. Diversity in wild flora and fauna, which includes more than 5,600 species of plants, 778 species of birds and close to 200 species of mammals, is one of the highest in Asia.

One-third of the of the country’s GDP is derived from renewable natural resources and employ about 60% of the population. The revenue generation potential of hydropower and tourism is also directly linked to the state of the environment. Poverty alleviation as well as growth in Bhutan has a strong correlation with environmental resources. Thus, sound environmental management is critical to sustained poverty reduction and achievement of the MDGs.

While the country has already made great strides with regard to environmental conservation and is broadly recognized for its conservation initiatives, it is challenged to maintain its pristine environment while at the same time ensuring the development of its rural population. Pressures are mounting in the form of urbanization, infrastructure development, population growth and globalization.

Further, Bhutan is highly vulnerable to risks from natural hazards due to global climate change and seismic activity. The country experienced wide spread floods caused by Cyclone Aila in 2009 and a massive earthquake shook eastern Bhutan in the same year followed by a series of aftershocks. While still recovering from the impacts of the above disasters, another earthquake struck Bhutan in September 2011 causing significant damage to private property, infrastructure and livelihoods. This has rendered a heavy blow to the implementation of development programmes under the 10th Five Year Plan where resources have been diverted for recovery and reconstruction efforts.

UNDP Assistance
Assistance to Bhutan, as embodied in the UNDAF (2008-2013), identified UNDAF Outcome 5: “enhancing environmental sustainability and disaster management” as one of five areas of national priority supported by the United Nations. In partnership with the Royal Government, donors, UN agencies and civil society will work towards achieving the following Outcomes:

CT Outcome 1    National capacity to address current environmental challenges and mainstream environmental concerns into policies, plans and programs enhanced.

CT Outcome 2    National capacity for disaster risk management strengthened.

CT Outcome 3    Access to sustainable energy and livelihoods for remote gewogs improved.

CT Outcome 4    Conservation of bio-diversity and ecosystems enhanced.

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