WATER in Bhutan's economy
Today, coinciding with the World Ozone Day 2016, the National Environment Commission (NEC), Royal Government of Bhutan and the WWF’s report Bhutan –Water risk scenarios and opportunities for resilient development was launched by Her Majesty the Queen of Bhutan, Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema. The report is a product of the first-ever exercise in Bhutan to not only highlight the role of freshwater in the country’s economy, but also explore multiple scenarios for how key water-reliant sectors could evolve over the next two decades (through approximately 2035) and the implications, tradeoffs, risks and opportunities to address or manage the risks.
Bhutan, one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots, is a place where people coexist with a fascinating assemblage of flora and fauna. This is possible because of the rich freshwater resources which also provides the foundation for all economic activity. Each of the major economic drivers – agriculture, hydropower, tourism and small-scale industry – are heavily reliant on water.
Although the country has abundance of water in terms of per- capita availability, access to adequate and consistent water supply can no longer be taken for granted, according to the authors. The pressure on the country’s rich freshwater resource is growing with increasing development and population growth, and water scarcity is being increasingly felt in different parts of the country. The need for a holistic approach to water resources management that takes into account all economic, environmental and social considerations both for the present and for the future is imperative.
Therefore, in November 2014, the National Environment Commission, WWF Living Himalayas and WWF Bhutan led a process called the “Water in Bhutan’s Economy”. The process was also supported technically by the freshwater team of WWF International and the consultancy firm Pegasys Strategy and Development based in South Africa.
“This brought together all relevant stakeholders linked to water resources in Bhutan to develop a common understanding on the water risks and opportunities, and chart future scenarios with optimal approaches to improve water resources management and help safeguard the natural capital and livelihoods of local communities,” said the Minister of Agriculture and Forests who is also the Vice Chair of NEC, Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji.
The report examines three potential future scenarios (through the year 2035): Hydro Bhutan, Brand Bhutan and Green Bhutan. Hydro Bhutan where the country’s hydro sector development is initially very centralized and oriented exclusively towards electricity generation. Brand Bhutan is when economic opportunities in agriculture and tourism are pursued, relying on rich natural resources and robust ecosystems. In the Green Economy Bhutan Scenario, affordable energy spurs the development of industrial sectors that leverage Bhutan’s natural resources.
According to the authors, this report is not meant to propose answers to Bhutan’s economic development decisions, but rather highlight the opportunities to make the plausible development trajectories more resilient in terms of water resources. “We believe that by framing water challenges and opportunities in the context of economic development, we can make a powerful case for the conservation of freshwater resources, not just for biodiversity or ecosystems, but for the future of Bhutan as a whole,” said Stuart Orr, WWF Freshwater Practice Leader.
The report also provides a detailed description of the process adopted and the scenario development, a useful tool to identify and interrogate plausible future developments that have implications for the country’s river basins.
“The process has enabled in-depth and thoughtful conversations about current and anticipated water-related challenges in Bhutan and facilitated cross-sectoral engagement to allow potential solutions to emerge,” said the WWF Bhutan Country Representative, Dechen Dorji. He said that WWF will continue to work with NEC and other partners to disseminate the findings and help facilitate the implementation of key recommendations.