Sankosh to have serious implications on environment

Considered one of the biggest hydropower projects in the country, the 2,560 megawatt Sankosh hydropower project, is all set to get a green signal from the Indian government, but the commencement of the joint venture project will mean serious implications on the environment.

According to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report for Sankosh Hydroelectric project conducted by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), Dehradun, the construction of the hydropower will have impacts on the flora and fauna of the project area.

The EIA report says the project will have various terrestrial biodiversity impacts which include effects on land and vegetation, loss of land to the reservoir and increased human access to area, and habitation. The most obvious impact of reservoirs on terrestrial ecosystems is the submergence of forest.

Other impacts include the generation of minor micro climatic changes and effects on endangered species.

An official from the Department of Hydropower, Ministry of Economic Affairs, said that the EIA has not been completed and more study is going on.

“Based on the final report we will come up with various management plans,” said the official. The official said that a team has been sent to the project site for further surveys and will take about a month or two to come up with the final report.

According to the EIA, the construction of the main and lift dam would require a land area of 7,619ha. This will result in loss of existing vegetation, occupancy area of the wild fauna and habitat fragmentation.

“The project activity will result in fragmentation in the project area due to construction of dam and other related activities and thus substantial forest land will be lost,” states the EIA report.

This fragmentation of the old forest is likely to affect the ability of species to migrate in response to micro climate change occurring in the area.

“Species with poor mobility or sensitive to dispersal barriers will do less than those with a weedy nature,” states the EIA report. The EIA mentions that preventing fragmentation is essential to maintain the resilience of old forest and forest flora and fauna to micro climate change, it therefore recommends a gene pool of the floral diversity to be conserved through compensatory afforestion.

Other prevention measures include Catchment Area Treatment activity, green belt and landscape restoration activity which will intern restore fauna.

With the project area home to a wide variety of wild animals the construction activities such as noise, movement, building of roads, extraction of stone and soil, construction of buildings and so on is expected to have a negative impact.

The EIA report states that the large hydropower project will have major threats to loss of habitats resulting in decreased prey base for wild animals like tiger, elephant and other primates.

Recently, an Indian media reported that the biodiversity of Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR) in West Bengal, an important reserved habitat for the highly endangered cats will be affected. The BTR is a 760sqkm reserve forest situated beside an Indo-Bhutan trans-border.

It reported that possible impact of Sankosh Project on BTR’s biodiversity had never been taken into serious consideration.

“Survival of Tigers, at the top of food chain, depends on naturally maintained eco-system and biodiversity of roaming area. Any major alteration of natural flow of Sankosh may severely impact that in its catchments areas within BTR,” reported the media.

The official from the Department of Hydropower said there will be no major alteration of natural flow of Sankosh.

“There will be a diversion while constructing the dam but when it’s finished it will be restored back,” said the official.

He also added that there will not be any impacts to the biodiversity downstream.

However, the project also has in place various measures to limit the impacts. For example a total of around Nu 500mn is proposed for environmental management plan for the conservation of the area. Out of which Nu 50mn is proposed for biodiversity conservation management plan which includes wildlife conservation.

This Article was published in Business Bhutan

Communities and schools to monitor changes in temperature, snowfalls, rainfalls, river flows

For the very first time in Bhutan select schools and communities around the country will be trained to monitor changes in temperature, snowfalls, rainfalls and river flows.

School students and people of the communities will be trained and deployed for the purpose.

The Ugyen Wangchuck Institute of Conservation and Environment (UWICE) under its program called Himalayan Environmental Rhythms Observatory and Evaluation System (HEROES) will study phenological changes in the environment.

Sangay Wangchuk from the UWICE said Bhutan has diverse flora and fauna but it is difficult to know the flowering and fruiting or animal migration patterns and how it changes over time.

“We felt the urgent need to understand such patterns to determine the change and to understand the cause of such changes,” he said.

According to UWICE, the schools and communities will be selected from different parts of the country to represent various ecological belts.

The people of the community and the students will be trained and provided with necessary equipment like computer and internet facilities.

“Necessary trainings will be provided to the selected schools and make them competent enough to train their students and record necessary data,” Sangay Wangchuk said.

UWICE will install weather loggers to record temperature, precipitation and wind data within the reach of each selected school or community. The data entered by the schools and communities will directly be linked to the UWICE database which will allow for the study on phenological changes of temperature, snowfall and rainfall events among others.

“We feel that such an initiative will be able to inculcate environmental knowledge to the young minds of the country,” said Sangay Wangchuk, adding that it is a long term program.

He said the UWICE is exploring potential donor agencies to fund the project.

The program was endorsed during the second sitting of the Board of Governors of the UWICE. During the meeting, the board instructed the institute to collaborate with the Ministry of Health (MoH) as the ministry already has a similar system to monitor health of communities in relation to the environment.

Apart from the HEROES program, the board also endorsed UWICE’s transition plan, establishment of ecological research preserves and expanding linkages.

Under the ecological preserves, researchers of UWICE will monitor animal populations through the deployment of camera traps at different altitudes.

This Article was published in Business Bhutan

Trans-boundary conservation: a mammoth challenge

A report states that Trans-boundary Manas Conservation Complex could be the only landscape in the world with eight species of cats (felids) co-existing in the same area

The Trans-boundary Manas Conservation Complex (TMCC) between Bhutan and India is an extremely unique and rich landscape with variety of wild cats and a host of different prey species.

This was revealed by a study carried out jointly by Bhutan and India. The Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan and the Manas National Park in India fall within the TMCC.

While the rich landscape boosts of many flora and fauna, challenges in conserving the rich landscape has always been a problem.

The study highlights various challenges that affect the protection and conservation of TMCC.

Poaching of wildlife and illegal logging have always been the biggest challenges. Even though poaching of wildlife and smuggling of timber were largely under control in both sides of the parks, the study points out that the highly porous border between the two parks provide conducive conditions for clandestine activities by anti-social and criminal elements.

Another challenge is logistics constraints where remote border locations, rugged landscape and poor basic infrastructures limit the geographical mobility as well as hamper road access and create communication bottlenecks.

“Such situation constrains efficient patrolling and monitoring of the protected areas,” states the study.

While development activities like hydropower projects, road construction, laying power lines, irrigation and industrial enterprise have been increasing, it has been noted that there are long term bearing on the ecological integrity of the two national parks.

TMCC also continue to face pressure from the thickly populated pockets of human settlements in the fringe areas of the respective sites as well as from illegal entry across the national borders.

“Dependence on forest resources for domestic consumption, commercial markets, livestock grazing and land encroachments continue to create management challenges for the park authorities to deal with the socio-economic dimensions of the problem,” states the study.

Another challenge comes from the research and monitoring limitations. The study says that lack of skilled personnel and resources for scientific research and monitoring of habitat and wildlife is a challenge for informed management interventions in conservation.

“Incorporating principal concepts of modern ecological and social sciences in management and monitoring is imperative for ensuring the maintenance of the natural attributes of the protected areas,” added the study.

While there are many challenges, civil unrest within both the national parks the area had to confront ethnic and political disturbance with grave security and conservation implications.

“The decade long ethnic strife of the Bodo indigenous community and rebel insurgent groups of India directly affected park staff, infrastructure, wildlife and habitat which hampered effective management of both the sites,” states the study.

However, conditions have since improved for the better with political stability and recovery of wildlife population.

The study also suggests various recommendations on the way forward to conserve and protect the TMCC.

It recommends increased joint patrolling by forest staffs at the field level for effective protection efforts by identifying areas and ensure regular meetings and discussions between the authorities of both MNP and RMNP.

“This will aid in greater coordination in decision-making on issues of common interest for TMCC,” states the report.

It is also suggested that both the parties integrated monitoring of wildlife which aims to better assess the distribution and abundance of the wildlife species and share information about illegal activities like poaching, logging and other wildlife crimes across the landscape at the highest levels of the park management.

Other recommendations include coordinated tourism strategy which enhances tourism and income potential while ensuring ecological sensitivity, habitat and climate studies in the TMCC landscape, and corridor connectivity where it not only looks at TMCC’s conservation but conservation beyond the park corridors to ensure long-term integrity of TMCC and its biodiversity.

This Article was published in Business Bhutan

Water treatment mandatory for automobile workshops

In about six months from now, automobile workshops in the country will be mandated to establish Effluent Treatment Plants (ETP) to treat contaminated water before it is released into the surrounding environment.

The rule will apply to all automobile workshops around the country irrespective of their sizes.

The rule will be implemented in the two urban towns of Thimphu and Phuentsholing which have the maximum number of automobile workshops.

The ETP absorbs soap and contaminated water from vehicles washed in modern commercial facilities and treats it before it is released into the surrounding environment.

In order to ensure that every automobile workshop has an Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) the National Environment Commission has come up with a guideline for vehicle wash facility in Bhutan.

The Secretary of the NEC, Ugyen Tshewang, said the contamination of water bodies by untreated car wash effluents is a prominent and serious environmental hazard.

He said the NEC has notified all the Dzongkhags and Thromdes to implement the guideline.

He said existing automobile workshops and those that will come up should establish an ETP.

“We will coordinate with the relevant stakeholders and ensure these facilities are established and implemented,” said Ugyen Tshewang.

Today there are 20 semi-automated vehicle wash facilities in the Olarongchu automobile workshop in Thimphu.

According to NEC, most of the workshops do not have an effective effluent treatment plant.

“It is important to establish efficient ETP at Olarongchu automobile workshop in order to treat the waste water immediately and prevent the effluent discharge into the Olarongchu stream,” said Ugyen Tshewang.

He added that Thimphu Thromde has been asked to identify locations for the establishment of washing facilities for heavy vehicles like trucks and buses. The NEC will coordinate in establishing the facility.

Ugyen Tshewang said curently almost all heavy vehicles are washed in streams and rivers.

“Thromdes will have to identify areas and processes for the allocation of land for heavy vehicle and machineries wash facilities,” he said.

There are many impacts of washing cars in the rivers, streams or lakes. Detergent concentration of only 2 parts per million (PPM) strip away fishes’ protective coating, resulting in their absorbing double the amount of chemicals they would normally.

Detergent concentration as low as 5 ppm will kill fish eggs and significant fish kills occurs when detergent concentration is near 15 ppm.

According to the Water Prevention and Waste Management Act 2009, washing of vehicles in streams and rivers is prohibitedbut despite the large number of car wash facilities in Thimphu, many vehicles are washed in streams and rivers, a practice prevalent across the country.

Ugyen Tshewang said the guideline for vehicle wash facility in Bhutan will provide information on types of light and heavy vehicle washing facilities that can be established depending on locations and feasibilities with various options.

The implementation arrangement under the guideline says, to facilitate and expedite establishment of vehicle wash facilities, the government may consider provision of tax exemption for import of equipment which is environmental friendly technology.

The NEC has also recommended provisions of subsidy for establishment of ETP and a soft loan program for washing facilities.  The Bhutan Trust Fund will support the establishment of the facilities.

This Article was published in Business Bhutan

Bumdeling and Khotokha wetlands gain international significance

With the inclusion of the two protected wetlands, Bhutan joins the race to cover 250mn hectares of protected area around the world by 2015

The wetlands of Bumdeling and Khotokha have been identified and officially included in the Ramsar Convention on Saving Wetlands, ensuring the marshlands international importance and protection.

This came after the National Council of Bhutan ratified the Ramsar Convention earlier this year and recognized three wetlands of Phobjikha, Khothokha and Bumdeling- all wintering grounds for black necked crane- as potential Ramsar sites in the country.

However, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands identified Bumdeling and Khotokha wetlands. Ramsar Convention on Saving Wetlands is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands, to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands for now and in the future.

Bumdeling is located in north eastern Bhutan at 1,900 meters in Tashiyangtse Dzongkhag and Khotokha falls under Wangduephodrang at 2,617 meters.

Both sites are important wintering ground for some 160 black necked cranes.

The secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in its website posted “Secretariat is delighted to welcome Bhutan to the Ramsar family as its 161st Contracting Party. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has confirmed that the instrument of accession and the names and maps of two Wetlands of international importance were received on May 7, so that the Convention will come into force for Bhutan on September 7, 2012.”

Bhutan’s designations contribute to one of the goals contained in the Ramsar Convention’s Strategic Plan for 2009-15, which is to reach a protected area of 250mn hectares by 2015.

The agriculture minister, Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho, who introduced the wetlands in the National Council session then said the decision will only further benefit the country in its effort to conserve wetlands.

Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho said wetlands constitute a resource of great economic, cultural, scientific, and recreational value, the loss of which would be irreparable.

“Being a member of the Convention will result in Bhutan benefiting in areas of wetlands preservation such as fish and wildlife habitat, natural water quality improvement, food storage and mitigate the affects against climate change,” he said.

Recently, the agriculture ministry announced that it will designate and regulate specific wetlands as critical components of watershed ecosystem.

This, the ministry said, was to avoid possible long term and short term adverse impacts associated with the destruction or modification of wetlands and to avoid direct or indirect support of new developmental activities in wetlands whenever there is an alternative.

The agriculture ministry has also announced that all public, private or community based developmental activities falling within a wetland area should make possible efforts to avoid adverse impacts to the extent practicable.

“Efforts should be taken to minimize impacts that could not be avoided. If a wetland has to be converted and it is unavoidable, efforts should be made to restore an equal area of degraded wetlands,” the ministry said.

Meanwhile, some of the benefits of being a member of the Ramsar Convention are increased support for public awareness about the importance of the sites, participation by local stakeholder in its management, protection of the site and its surrounding areas, conservation funding, and opportunities for promoting scientific research and ecotourism.

There are various types of wetlands in Bhutan including flowing water in rivers, streams and springs with associated riverine wetlands and wetlands encompassing areas of constant soil saturation or inundation with distinct vegetation and faunal communities.

With the inclusion, Bhutan is the 161st contracting party to the Ramsar Convention on Saving Wetlands.

This Article was published in Business Bhutan

Bhutan calls for ambitious emission reduction at cop18

The delegation is also following issues related to finance and cooperation with other delegations on strategies to ensure that there is no gap between fast start finances.

Bhutan along with the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) has called for an ambitious emission reduction targets for developed countries at COP 18, Doha.

While the Doha conference marks the closure of the first commitment period of Kyoto Protocol the LDCs also called for the second commitment period to start from January next year so that there is no gap between the first and the second commitment periods.

According to a foreign ministry press release, the Bhutanese delegation is rigorously working with the group of LDCs to advance its position during the negotiations and

“As a nation that has pledged to remain carbon neutral and is a net sink for green house gas emissions, Bhutan remains deeply concerned with the adverse impacts of climate change,” states the press release.

The delegation is also following issues related to finance and cooperation with other delegations on strategies to ensure that there is no gap between fast start finance, which will end from this year till 2020.

“The Bhutanese delegation called for a strong financial support from the developed countries to help the developing countries adapt to the adverse effects of climate change,” stated the press release.

The cabinet secretary Dasho Penden Wangchuk who is leading the Bhutanese delegation addressed the gathering on Thursday.

He said Bhutan is a victim of climate change and remains highly vulnerable to its adverse impacts.

He informed the members that with regard to adaptation efforts, Bhutan successfully completed the first NAPA project to reduce the risk of a catastrophic glacial lake outburst flood from one of the most dangerous glacial lakes called Thorthormi tsho.

“Over the last four years, the outlet of the lake was lowered by 5 meters and an early warning system installed in the valleys downstream. We wish to express our appreciation to all the donors of the LDC Fund and also our partners who have contributed to this project, including the Government of Austria, UNDP, WWF and GEF,” he said.

He demanded that Doha must ensure that it delivers on the extension of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and comparable action from those not party to the Protocol so that the near term action required before 2020 is not missed.

“The Durban Platform must start its work immediately on matters of substance in order to avoid delay in the conclusion of a new comprehensive agreement by 2015,”he said.

The chair of the LDC, Pa Ousman Jarju from The Gambia, who delivered a statement on behalf of the LDCs group said with the emission increase in the atmosphere, climate related disasters have become normal in LDCs.

“We are only 12% of the world’s population, but we suffer the effects of climate related disasters over five times as much as the world as a whole. All these disasters call for nothing else but to speed up global action towards addressing a low emission future where everyone has the chance of survival and sustainable livelihood,” said Pa Ousman Jarju.

According to the World Energy Outlook 2012, carbon emissions increased by 3.2% in 2011 to reach a record of 31.2 Gigatonnes carbon emissions. The UNEP Gap report estimated the 2020 emission gap larger by 2 Gigatonnes compared to last year’s gap.

The chair of the LDCs said countries must agree on comparable targets and common accounting rules ensuring transparency and coherence across developed countries those that are not Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

He said substantial financial resources are keys to keeping the global temperature rise below the 1.5 degree Celsius target and helping developing countries adapt to unavoidable climate change impacts.

“Agreeing on a climate finance roadmap from 2013 to 2020 to provide new, additional and predictable public finance to developing countries is paramount for a successful outcome in Doha,” said Pa Ousman Jarju.

He said that countries must agree on a decision in Doha to annually scale up developed countries’ public finance contributions from USD 30bn to a minimum of USD100bn a year from 2013 to 2020.

The Bhutanese delegation at COP 18 is also following and considering developments on discussions related to the reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

The delegation also presented the findings of a case study on “Loss and Damage” from changing monsoon patterns in Punakha valley at a side event organized by the United Nations University.

The presentation was a part of a broader program with LDCs to provide inputs on the ongoing dialogue on the issue of loss and damage from climate change through extreme events like storms or slow onset events like melting glaciers, sea level rise and changes in climate.

The Eighteenth  Session  of the Conference  of the Parities  (COP18) to the United Nations Framework on Climate commenced on the morning of 26th November in Doha.

This article was published in Business Bhutan

An edgy equation between bhutan’s snow leopards and the building mercury

Snow leopard habitat in Bhutan and the neighboring Himalayan countries could be substantially wiped out if green house emissions continue to increase

In what could be a described as a disaster for the elusive mountain cat, a recent study carried out by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has found out that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, snow leopards’ habitat in the Himalayas could be lost substantially.

According to the study that grouped potential changes in the alpine and forest zones under three climate scenarios of low emissions, medium emissions and high emissions, Bhutan could lose upto 30% of its snow leopard habitats to tree line shift and shrinking of the alpine zone if greenhouse gas emissions continues to increase.

The findings reveal that in the Himalayan mountain range under high emissions scenario, Bhutan can lose about 55% of its current snow leopard habitat, while the habitat in Nepal can decrease by as much as 40% and India and China can lose about 25% of their existing habitat.

The study also states that if emissions remain relatively low and begin to decrease below the current levels, by 2050 up to 10% of snow leopard habitat could be lost as snow leopards will be left with limited capacity to adapt physiologically and ecologically to warming conditions.

“In terms of absolute extent of habitat loss China and India which have the most snow leopard habitat would lose considerably more habitat than Nepal and Bhutan,” states the study. Most of the habitat loss would be along southern, peripheral areas of the snow leopard range, and in the deep river valleys that incise the mountains.

The study estimated Bhutan’s original area for snow leopard habitat to be 4,900 square kilometers.

Under the low emission scenario, Bhutan would be left with 4,600 square kilometers, 3,200 square kilometers under medium emissions scenario and 2,200 square kilometers under high emissions scenario.

Further, due to the general warming conditions the elusive mountain cat would have to contend with resource competition from other species, like common leopards, wild dogs, and tigers, which are better adapted to forest habitats.

The upper altitude of snow leopards and their prey will be determined by their physiological tolerance for oxygen deprivation.

While passes above 5,500 meters could act as dispersal corridors, it is unlikely that snow leopards will be able to live and hunt at these altitudes without the benefits of long term physiological adaptations.

Last year, a study carried out by Bhutan’s newest national park, Wangchuck Centennial Park; “Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment of the WCP”, found out that a warming trend in the Himalayas could cause the elevation of the tree line to increase and thereby reduce the size of the alpine zone available to snow leopards between tree line and the upper limits of their altitude range imposed by oxygen limits.

“The tree lines are moving up and covering the alpine areas. This will create problems for snow leopards which live in an alpine zone,” said the Program Officer, Fresh Water and Climate Change, WWF, Phurba Lhendup.

He said this will lead to the loss and shift in habitat. “Many species might change their habitat and there might have to be re-designation of core habitat areas,” he said.

The report says that the climate model predicts a shrinking of core areas, habitat fragmentation, and loss of connectivity under climate change due to change from alpine to forest habitat.

Currently, the population of the endangered species is roughly estimated between 4,000 to 6,500 and is sparsely distributed in the mountains of northern and central Asia including part of the Himalayan Mountains.

While no formal study has been done to study the exact number of the cats in Bhutan, few records show that there are 100 to 200 cats in Bhutan while its global population is expected to be around 3,500 to 7,000. published in Business Bhutan

Bhutanese glaciers to shrink despite steady temperature

The research findings indicate that even if climate remained the same Bhutan would lose almost 10% of its glaciers within a few years

In what could be a shocking revelation, a research conducted in the mountains of Bhutan showed that almost 10% of Bhutan’s glaciers would disappear within the next few decades even though the climate remained steady.

According to the research conducted by a geology professor of the Brigham Young University (BYU), Summer Rupper, not only glaciers would vanish within a few decades but the amount of melt water coming off these glaciers could also drop by 30%.

In fact, if temperatures were to increase by just 1 degree Celsius, Bhutanese glaciers would shrink by 25% and the annual melt water would drop by as much as 65%.

With climate continuing to warm, such a prediction is not altogether unlikely, especially given the years it can take for glaciers to react to change.

According to Summer Rupper, while increasing temperature is just one culprit behind glacier retreat a number of climate factors such as wind, humidity, precipitation and evaporation can affect how glaciers behave.

“These particular glaciers have seen so much warming in the past few decades that they are currently playing lots of catch up,” said Summer Rupper.

Professor Summer Rupper says the only way for these glaciers in Bhutan to avoid melting is for snowfall levels nearly double. This is an unlikely scenario because warmer temperatures lead to rainfall instead of snow.

Last year, a report released by the ICIMOD (International Center for Integrated Mountain Development) during COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, revealed that snow cover in Bhutan dropped to almost 14% in the last decade.

The report “Snow Cover Mapping and Monitoring in the Hindu Kush Himalayas” revealed that snow coverage area of Bhutan decreased from 9,058 square kilometers to 7,851 square kilometers in 2010. This has been attributed to warming temperatures.

“Much of the world’s population is just downstream of the Himalayas,” says Summer Rupper. “A lot of culture and history could be lost, not just for Bhutan but for neighboring nations facing the same risks.”

The research was conducted by Summer Rupper and BYU graduate students Landon Burgener and Josh Maurer, researchers from Columbia University, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, NASA and Bhutan’s Department of Hydro-Meteorological Services.

It took the team seven days just to get to the target glacier trekking through rainforests and barren cliffs to reach some of the world’s most remote blocks of ice.

“For our pack animals, horsemen and guides that terrain and elevation are a way of life, but I’ll admit the westerners in the group were a bit slower-moving.”

The team also placed a weather station and glacier monitoring equipment that can be used to gather real-time data in the months and years to follow.

The research which is one of the first of its kind would used to make long-term decisions about Bhutan’s water resources and flooding hazards.

“They could potentially have a better idea of where best to fortify homes or build new power plants,” said Summer Rupper.

She said good science can lead to good engineering solutions for the changes we’re likely to witness in the coming decades.”

Another report released by ICIMOD titled “The Status of Glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region” showed Bhutan’s glaciers have shrunk by an alarming 22% over the last 30 years. published in Business Bhutan