Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay has returned from his 10-day trip to the United States a happy man. There is every reason to be so.
He visited the US to promote the Bhutan for Life initiative and solicit funds to make that happen. At the end of the visit, Bhutan’s partners in this noble initiative, philanthropists and multinational corporations, together have already committed USD 40 million.
Bhutan for Life is a major initiative of the government and the World Wildlife Fund to ensure sustainable financing for the conservation of Bhutan’s protected areas and biological corridors.
If what was committed and what is coming could enable the conservation of six million acres of forests and other natural habitats that covers more than 50 percent of the country’s landmass, the initiative is a most befitting gift to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, the champion of the earth, on his 60th birth anniversary this November.
If we are proud of the vast protected areas, it is not so much our doing. We have a pristine environment, one of the global hotspots, low pollution and abundant wildlife. But this is because of the enlightened leadership His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo provided. Even as we embarked on a development journey, His Majesty the Fourth King had prioritised conserving our environment right from the beginning, when he specified it as a cornerstone of our development philosophy.
While we have rich forest cover, now protected by the Constitution, we have not really contributed much. Consumption of forest products, especially timber, is on the rise, even with electricity penetrating the most remote village, for instance. Rapid development is coming into conflict with the conservation policies. In a democratic set up, there is the risk of conflicting interests at the cost of the nature. We are already seeing intense debate between politicians and conservationists over developments in protected areas.
The Bhutan for Life initiative will go a long way in not only protecting what we have, but also add to the natural wealth that we can pass on to our children. 15 years from now, when the project completes and we are able to take full responsibility, we will see a lot of changes.
If the initiative is guiding us on the right path, it is good to see a lot of other greening initiatives, small as it may be. The benefits will go beyond the anniversary. More than a decade from now, when our children rest in the willow groves at Changbangdu or Hejo, they will thank their parents. Hundreds of trees are being planted. And we have a world record attempt lined up.
We are already enjoying the status of being a world leader in environmental protection. It is encouraging that we understand the value of a pristine environment and are slowly seeing some action in protecting it. It would have been totally different, if we had realised this much earlier.
Fortunately, it is better late than never.