Bhutan Believes in Gross National Happiness

The Kingdom of Bhutan, also known as Druk Yul, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is a country  unlike any other.[more…]

The Bhutanese people have always taken a unique approach to everything.  Bhutan has inspired many around the world by placing the happiness and prosperity of each of its individuals ahead of economic wealth. This is the central idea behind Gross National Happiness (GNH), Bhutan’s development philosophy.

GNH was developed by His Majesty the Fourth King of Bhutan.  It’s based on the premise that true development occurs when material and spiritual development complement each other and highlights both the physical and mental well-being of the individual. His Majesty the Fourth King stresses that Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product, as wealth does not necessarily bring happiness to people.

Our philosophical mission of maintaining GNH generates great interest, yet it creates more responsibility to us in Bhutan to ensure that we don’t lose that special and unique perspective for our country.  So how does GNH translate to life in Bhutan?  GNH comprises four pillars: Conservation of the Environment, Equitable and Sustainable Development, Good Governance, and Preservation of Culture.

Conservation of the Environment
Enshrined in the country’s constitution is Bhutan’s resolve and commitment to “maintain at least sixty percent of the country under forest cover at all times.” Presently, 72% of Bhutan is forested and more than a third of the country falls within the protected area network. To conserve biodiversity effectively, we must first understand and catalog what we have, and then assess how key populations are doing.  Conservation of a target species or ecosystem ideally begins with establishing a baseline and then working to attain a certain desired state for that target. The Bhutan Foundation is committed to supporting its partners in Bhutan in achieving this through building capacity for conservation in partnership with various stakeholders.

While Bhutan has been lauded as a global frontrunner in conservation efforts, it comes with distinct challenges.  For example, we often have to forego economic opportunities for the sake of conservation. And, in the wake of increasingly erratic weather patterns, flash floods and natural disasters are becoming more commonplace, driving home the realities of climate change.

Although Bhutan is a carbon-negative country, it does not escape the wrath of global climate change. Much of Bhutan’s revenue generation is highly dependent on hydropower that relies on glacial melt water and surface runoff. The Bhutan Foundation supports local initiatives to mitigate carbon emission and prepare for and adapt to climate change. At the national level, it seeks to promote Bhutan as the poster child for what a country can do, as part of the global community, to combat and prepare for global climate change, in the hopes that bigger, richer countries will follow suit.

Sustainable Development
Social and economic development is the core of Bhutan’s development policy so that the people may enjoy higher standards of health care, education, and social services and less hardship. To address the needs of present and future generations, Bhutan envisions higher standards of living and access to modern amenities and technology across all parts of the country.  A crucial element of this growth and development is equality, which will enable the benefits of development to reach the poorest and the weakest.

Bhutan has achieved impressive development and improved the lives of many people under the dynamic leadership of His Majesty the Fourth King, and this has laid the foundation for faster, more equitable, and more humane development. Bhutan is committed to uplifting the well-being of the people further, especially those who live in remote and inaccessible areas and those who are disadvantaged.

Good Governance
The world is watching our new democracy evolve in Bhutan, and efforts to succeed with good governance are a priority. We are learning every step along the way that, with our democracy, the government must reflect the opinion of the people, and the people must become more proactive in their involvement with the exciting changes.

Preservation of Culture
Many countries have lost much of their cultural heritage with the dynamic changing of times. In Bhutan, we’ve made a sincere and respectful effort to preserve our culture. For us, GNH is also about culture and how people live life as human beings, as families, and as a society—our values that we aspire to individually and collectively.  Our distinct architecture, cultural events, traditions, and rituals are all aspects of the Bhutanese way of life. The challenge is more profound today than ever before to restore and maintain these elements through cultural preservation.

Blessed with exceptional leaders and forward-thinking citizens, Bhutan remains distinct and unaffected amidst the world that too often faces crises. To help the government in its meaningful work to achieve Bhutan’s development goal of Gross National Happiness and to continue the development success the country has achieved so far, the Bhutan Foundation aligns its programs to support initiatives under all four pillars of GNH.

Bhutan’s Population Is Young

One little-known fact about Bhutan is how youthful its population is.[more…]In fact, more than 56% of Bhutanese citizens are under the age of 25. Bhutanese youth face a unique challenge of balancing tradition with modernity. While preserving traditional values and culture, young Bhutanese citizens also need to stay current and keep Bhutan in sync with the dynamic global community. Bhutan must address problems that affect its youth and young adults.

Drug and alcohol abuse have become one of Bhutan’s biggest concerns for its youth. Pharmaceutical medicines such as pain killers, cough syrup, and inhalants are among the most commonly abused drugs. Marijuana use is also a large and growing issue, as it grows naturally and is widely available. In addition, the open and porous border with India allows for easy trafficking of drugs.

Bhutan is learning from the global community that we can’t look away from the serious problem of drug and alcohol dependency. We all must be realistic and understand how best to establish treatment and rehabilitation programs.  Currently, there is one drop-in center in Thimphu, which is supported by the Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF). However, more support and awareness needs to be provided to this vulnerable group. The Bhutan Foundation hopes to support the YDF in reestablishing a rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol recovery in Thimphu.

Unemployment among young adults is also a growing concern, as there are not enough jobs for the growing young population. The result of the 2009 Bhutan Labor Force Survey confirmed that unemployment in Bhutan increased to 4%, with more than 80% of the unemployed between the ages of 15 and 25. This means 13,000 of the 325,700 economically active people in Bhutan are unemployed. And of them, 10,500 are youth.

Many blame this on the mismatch in demand and supply, as more Bhutanese citizens are becoming educated and unable to work as farmers or laborers, while the highest economic demand in the country is for construction and manual labor. Also, large numbers of young people are migrating from rural to urban centers in search of employment and better opportunities. Statistics show youth unemployment more than doubled between 1998 and 2005.  And with growing unemployment, delinquency, such as petty crime and prostitution, is on the rise.

It’s important for the Bhutan Foundation to continue and expand support in establishing a strong counterforce against these issues—support that includes positive programs for the youth of Bhutan. For example, the Bhutan Foundation supports youth activities by giving scholarships and educational opportunities; promoting sports, arts, and music; encouraging volunteerism; and providing employment opportunities. The Bhutan Foundation offers numerous scholarships in various fields of interest, and is working to expand existing scholarship programs.  We also support the Tarayana Foundation’s basic education program, which provides uniforms, shoes, and books to school children from disadvantaged families so they can attend school. In addition, the Bhutan Foundation supports other programs in education to meet the needs of the 21st century and sustain our youths’ interest in continuing education.

The Bhutan Foundation also supports income-generating programs, particularly focusing on girls who have dropped out of school or have no other source of income. We support the Tarayana Foundation and the YDF in various income-generating initiatives focused on rural women and young girls from disadvantaged families. The Bhutan Foundation also supports The Loden Foundation’s Loden Entrepreneurship Program, which provides loans at zero interest for new businesses and encourages entrepreneurship among young adults.

Volunteerism and extracurricular activities such as sports and arts are important to keep youth healthy and engaged. The Bhutan Foundation supports initiatives such as the YDF Young Volunteers in Action network, which mobilizes young volunteers and leaders in urban and rural communities.  We also support the Volunteers Artists’ Studio, Thimphu (VAST), an exciting group of volunteer artists who promote art and volunteerism among urban youth.

For a small country with a large young population, Bhutanese youth will play a critical role in the future of the country. It is the spirit of the youth in Bhutan that will be the driving force for a positive direction for the future.

Environmental Conservation

Bhutan has been endowed with such a diversity of plant and wildlife species[more…]

that it shoulders great responsibility as custodians for its future generations as well as the global community. Bhutan’s leadership has won accolades for its efforts in conservation and preservation of the environment. Yet, faced with climate change and a need for greater economic growth, Bhutan faces new challenges.

Remarkably, over 72% of Bhutan’s 38,000 km2 is under forest cover. Additionally, the country boasts over 200 species of mammals, 770 species of birds (72 are among the most endangered species), and 5400 species of plants. The combination of the dramatic variation in the altitude of Bhutan’s land, which rises from about 150 meters to more than 7500 meters above sea level, and the diverse climate conditions, including heavy precipitation, contribute to Bhutan’s wealth of biodiversity.

The global community today faces many challenges that threaten the natural environment, from rapid deforestation and development to poaching and wildlife trade. Bhutan has taken a number of steps to preserve its ecosystems and currently has five national parks, four wildlife sanctuaries, and one nature reserve, which span 19 dzongkhags (districts). These parks and protected areas make up over 40% of the territory in Bhutan.  But, of course, these extraordinary preservation efforts do not happen by accident and require solid planning, expertise, and funds.

To support conservation of Bhutan’s natural environment, the Bhutan Foundation helped establish the newest and largest national park, the Wangchuck Centennial National Park, in October 2008. This national park commemorates 100 years of the Wangchuck dynasty’s exemplary leadership in conservation.  Currently, it’s focused on supporting capacity-building efforts of Bhutanese professionals at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment, in partnership with the Wildlife Biology Program at the University of Montana.

Interestingly, Bhutan’s forests and the environment absorb more carbon than they emit, making it one of the few countries in the world that is beyond carbon neutral.  Although it is a country that contributes the least to carbon emissions and global warming, Bhutan’s natural environment and people are threatened by the impacts of global climate change.

Bhutan is highly dependent on its natural environment. Its economy is primarily agrarian with subsistence farming contributing to 36.4% of the gross domestic product (GDP). The nation is also supported though income generated by hydroelectric power, which contributes to about 40% of the GDP.  So climate change poses not just a threat to the environment, but a huge challenge to the livelihood of the people of this Himalayan nation. It’s critical for Bhutan to develop preventive and coping mechanisms to deal with the threats that climate change poses.

As Bhutan continues to modernize, it sees new challenges, like solid waste and pollution and the impact of fossil fuel consumption in urban areas. In rural areas, wood is the primary source of fuel, accounting for roughly 80% of energy consumption. This makes Bhutan a country with one of the highest annual firewood consumption rates in the world. Bhutan must promote development and use of alternative sources of energy in these areas.

As part of the global community, Bhutan can show the world how a determined country can mitigate carbon emissions and still make economic sense. To this end, the Bhutan Foundation supported the Tarayana Foundation and its team of “Barefoot Engineers” in harnessing solar energy to light villages in Athang geog.  We also will support Bhutan’s move toward a Low Carbon Development Strategy. We acknowledge the role of youth in this important endeavor and will support the Bhutanese Youth for Climate Action, a network of young people spreading awareness on climate change.