Plastic waste hogged the Pig year

Environment:

Choki Wangmo

Globally, young climate activists took to streets to protest on the lack of climate action. COP 25 saw failed negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

At home, although nobody resorted to activism, the populace did not take positively to the plastic ban, especially its implementation. It was an unpopular move. 

To address mounting plastic waste in the country, National Environment Commission (NEC) announced the reinforced ban on plastic carry bags and doma wrappers in April, but lack of alternatives left people confused.  NEC even distributed 3,000 eco-friendly bags to customers and vendors at the Centenary Farmer’s Market as an alternative. 

In few dzongkhags such as Tsirang and Phuentsholing, the rule backfired with public criticising, even creating tension between dzongkhags and people. Even after months of implementing the ban, shops were flooded with banned plastic.

Meanwhile, landfills overflowed with waste before its lifetime ended, even the remotest areas of the country like Sakteng, Soe and Singye Dzong grappled with increasing problems of waste. Research studies reported that if Bhutan is to maintain her “only carbon neutral country”status, she must do more in terms of waste management. 

Managing medical waste, menstrual waste and meat waste among others continued to inflict the country. Waste entrepreneurs, on the other hand, struggled to collect enough plastic waste to sustain their innovation. Greener Way started making poles from plastic ways- a strategy to help address plastic waste.

In what was a bold decision, the department of forest banned people from dumping waste from Bishwa Karma Puja ceremonies. Although the implementation was questioned for not giving alternatives, most refrained from dumping hundreds of statues and other religious waste in the river. The Dratshang banned offering packaged tshogs at religious ceremonies it organised. Fruits and homemade tshogs were encouraged.

International organisations in the country initiated programmes and plans to tackle waste. The Prime Minister encouraged people to use decomposable cups and plates and youth did their share through #trashtag challenge to reduce waste. 

The country is currently taking solace in waste flagship programme but then, during the programme update, the Prime Minister told NEC that despite plans and policies, waste management was poorly implemented. Although there was hyped response to the zero waste hour, it is no longer visibly implemented by organisations and agencies as deemed by NEC in the beginning.  Locals barely participated. 

Disasters such as windstorm in the eastern dzongkhags, rainstorm, hailstorm, outburst of subsidiary lake II of Thorthormi, flashfloods, and torrential rain caused few deaths and damage to livelihood. Local leaders in vulnerable areas were trained on how to mitigate the impact of climate-induced risks. There were 63 forest fire incidents recorded as April 31.

Thimphu didn’t see snow last year although there were three consecutive snowfalls in the northern, central and western regions of the country. Observations by National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology recorded rising temperature from 1996 to 2017. Emissions from the transport sector are only expected to triple by 2030 if there are no policy  interventions. 

Shortage of water both in rural and urban areas became severe throughout the year. Few villages had to resort to relocation, even. Samdrupjongkhar and Gelephu continued to be heavily affected. Some Thimphu businesses resorted to buying water whereas others journeyed hours to fetch water from nearby streams. 

Water Flagship Programme comes as a hope to water-deprived areas, which will ensure availability of adequate water for drinking and irrigation. 

 Joining the global movement to mitigate climate change, the Parliament adopted the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. During COP25, the Prime Minister called on all countries to submit enhanced climate pledge. 

Although UN biodiversity report warned that one million plant and animal species were on the verge of extinction, Bhutan is home to 11,248 species. 

The avian family saw a good year in 2019. Several new bird species were recorded taking the number to almost 750 although Himalayan Monal was reported to be harmed by poachers. 

Bhutan became the first country to record Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory life cycle. The butterfly had its life cycle recorded for the first time in its endemic area in Trashiyangtse. 

However, Bhutan lost about 3,460 acres of forest cover due to construction of three hydropower projects – Punatsangchhu-I, Punatsangchhu-II, and Mangdechhu. 

The juniper species in Hongtsho were found to be falling fast due to overuse for religious purposes. Human-wildlife conflict in the south continued to cause damage to livelihood.

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