UNDP and Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) yesterday signed UNDP Global Environment Facility (GEF)-Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) project called Enhancing Sustainability and Climate Resilience of Forest and Agriculture Landscape and Community Livelihood in Bhutan.

The six-year project until 2023 will focus on creating climate-resilient livelihoods for the communities, effective corridors and improving institutional capacity at national, sub-national and local levels to manage forest and agricultural landscapes sustainably.

According to a press release from UNDP, the population that depends on agriculture is obstructed to build a resilient farming system with barriers of remoteness, limited access to markets and climate induced droughts or floods. “The project will also invest into several actions such as climate-resilient irrigation and road design, crop diversification, creation of biodiversity conservation oriented jobs, enhanced markets and market accessibility and sustainable land management options.”

The community livelihood activities will be implemented in 12 dzongkhags: Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Wangdue, Mongar, Lhuntse, Bumthang, Mongar, Trongsa, Tsirang, Sarpang and Zhemgang, and 38 gewogs in the 12 dzongkags, four biological corridors, and three protected areas.

Senior Programme Officer with GNHC, Pema Bazar, said that although the biological corridors, which connects all the national parks exist, there is a lack of functional details. “We are not sure if the existing biological corridors are being used by the animals for movement and if it is really serving the purpose which is intended.”

Although biological corridors were implemented to increase biodiversity by connecting landscapes, eco-systems and habitats in 1999, corridors remained largely non-operational due to lack of conservation plans.

Pema Bazar said that the officials have worked to build projects since 2015. “We did all the planning such as mapping, locating areas already covered, the areas that need concentration and consultation with stake-holders and other baseline studies.”

UNDP’s Deputy Resident Representative, Niamh Collier-Smith, said that UNDP has worked with Bhutan for the last four years to develop the project and financing for the project. “What it means is that while Bhutan has certain allegations on environment protection, they still have to build a project to access the funding and we built the additional project with the government to access to those funds.”

She added that UNDP has put warning systems for glacier lake outburst in the past. “Now the second phase is looking at the landslides areas and flooding problems. The third one will focus on the people and make themselves climate resilient so that they are able to protect the environment.”

The project would complement the 11th and 12th Plans.

The UNDP GEF-LDCF project received USD 13.9 million for the project of which USD 1.1 million is from GEF Trust Fund for Sustainable Forest Management Incentive Fund, USD 2.3 million from GEF Trust Fund and USD10.5 million from GEF-LDCF.

Phurpa Lhamo