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Bhutan situated between India and China is a landlocked country with a land area of 47, 000 km2 making it one of the smallest countries in the world. Bhutan is situated between two bio-geographical realms, which coupled with altitudinal variations allows it to hosts a range of ecosystems spanning sub tropical, temperate and alpine features. Most of the land area is hilly and rugged. Endemism is high accounting for 60% of the endemic species in the Eastern Himalayan Region Bhutan is also rich in biological diversity thereby classified as one of the 10 global hotspots.




Until the 1960s Bhutan has avoided modernisation and has employed a conservation ethic that has maintained the integrity of the environment. This is attributed to the close links with Buddhism the main religion as well continued reliance on cultural rules, norms and knowledge systems. This commitment still prevails as an important feature in the new era.

At present Bhutan has 72.5% of its land area under forest cover that includes 26.23% as protected areas. Furthermore, biological corridors comprise an additional 9% of the country's land area. In 1995 the national assembly decreed that the 60% of country must remain under forest cover at all times.

93% of the population is still rural, but urbanisation is on the rise.

Economy is reliant on agriculture and trade links with India .

Population and Development Trends:

Human and Development Trends

Life expectance at birth (years) 2002


Adult literacy rate ( % age 15 and above 2002)


GDP per capita (PPP US$ 2002)


Human development index ( HDI) value 2002


GDP per capita ( PPP US $) rank minus HDI rank


Demographic Trends

Total population (millions)


Annual population growth rate


Urban population (% of total) 2002


Population under age 15 (% of total) 2015


Population age 65 and above (% of total) 2015


Total fertility rate (births per women)


Human and Income Poverty

Population without sustainable access to an improved water sources (%) 2000

Population bellow income poverty line (%) $1 a day 1990-2000
Population bellow income poverty line (%) National Poverty line 1990-2000
Human Poverty Index (HPI-1) Rank
Human Poverty Index (HPI-1) Value (%)
Water Sanitation and Nutritional Status
Population with sustainable access to an improved sanitation (%) 1990
Population with sustainable access to an improved sanitation (%) 2000
Under nourished people ( % of total population) 1990/92
Under nourished people (% of total population) 1999/2001
Infants with low birth weight (%) 1998/2002

Source: UNDP Human Development Report, 2004

Major Environmental Problems

Urban rural migration

Bhutan is among the least urbanised countries in the world, with its urban population of about 133 000 in 1999, comprising 21% of the total population (Ian 1996). However, the situation is changing rapidly as Bhutan 's cities continue to be thronged by large numbers of people coming in from nearby villages. Bhutan 's two largest urban centres - Thimphu, the capital, and Phuntsholing are under pressure due to migration of population from different parts of Bhutan . It creates pressure on existing roads and parking facilities, telecommunication facilities, water supply and drainage, solid waste disposal, and housing facilities.

Bhutan 's urban population as a whole is increasing at 6.7% annually, more than double the national population growth rate of 3.1% per year. If these trends continue, it is estimated that the country's urban population would grow four-fold to 400 000 over the next 20-25 years. By the year 2020, about half of the population of Bhutan is likely to be urban in contrast to the current 21% in 1999. Thimphu housed over 46,000 people in 1999, is growing at about 10% annually and is expected to have 100 000 inhabitants by 2006. Phuntsholing with a population of 23,000 showed a growth rate just slightly lower than that of Thimphu .

Land degradation

Land degradation in Bhutan is a man-made as well as natural phenomenon. Urbanisation and industrialisation are exerting pressure on the environment and on the natural resources of the country. Land degradation in the country is mostly manifested in displacement of soil material through water erosion and internal biophysical and chemical deterioration. Human induced activities mainly trigger soil erosion in the mountainous terrain. Loss of vegetation due to deforestation, over cutting beyond silviculturally permissible limits, unsustainable fuel wood extraction, shifting cultivation, encroachment into forest land, forest fire, over grazing, extension of cultivation onto lands of low potential or high natural hazards, non-adoption of adequate soil conservation measures and improper crop rotation are some of the important factors contributing to land degradation in Bhutan.

Air pollution

Air pollution is an emerging issue in Bhutan , resulted from increasing urbanization and industrialisation. Air pollution in the cities can be attributed to vehicular growth and wood burning in bukharis. Increasing trend of respiratory diseases has been reported in cities.

Vehicle population in Bhutan has grown by 14% in the last year, pushing the number from 14,206 to 16,335. Thimphu and Phuntsholing had the largest number of vehicles. In Thimphu , two-wheelers from about 45% of the total vehicles, while cars and jeeps account for about 35%, and buses, about 2%.

Solid waste management

Waste disposal is an emerging problem in almost all the urban towns in Bhutan . The increase in waste generation can be primarily attributed to factors such as rapid rates of urbanization, rural urban migration, changing consumption pattern and high population growth rate. While the magnitude of the problem is relatively small and manageable in rural areas, it appears to be growing significantly in urban areas in recent times.

Chronology of Major Events leading to Environment Protection & Sustainable Development, during the last two decades.


Setting up of the National Environment Commission to coordinate all environmental activities. Their purview also involved ensuring the sustainable use of resources as a part of Bhutan 's economic development process.


The 8 th Five Year Plan, formulated the National Environment Strategy (NES). The NES is the policy document for institutionalizing and guiding the conservation of natural resources and the environment in Bhutan . The same year saw the initiation on the Environment Sector Programme Support (ESPS) focusing on developing a regulatory framework for the environment sector.


Secretariat and the Nature Conservation Division; and the establishment of the National Biodiversity Centre.
NEC Secretariat's vision is to further


The Environmental Assessment Act was approved ensuring EIAs are done for activities deemed to have significant environmental impacts.


Formulation of the National Environmental Action Plan and the National Environmental Protection Acts are underway.


Entry into force of the Regulation for Environmental Clearance of Projects and the Regulation on Strategic Environmental Assessment.


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