Monday, July 28, 2014

WATER: The Next BIG Trouble: I

"A shortage of water resources could spell increased conflicts in the future. Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon."
Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General

1.6 billion live in areas where there is water, but they can't afford to drink it.

International Water Management Institute

By 2025, two-thirds of the world will live under conditions of water scarcity.

International Water Management Institute

Global water demands will increase by 40% in the next ten years.

Pacific Institute

Two-thirds of the cities in China suffer from water shortages. Clean water is even more rare.

Asia Water Projects

India WILL run out of water in the near future.

Arlington Institute

Water is the very essence of life. Every life form on this earth draws sustenance from it. And yet, human beings have been so reckless in its abuse and misuse that we are now faced with an imminent crisis that we are unlikely to overcome, without creating many other tragedies.

In the face of this looming global water crisis, what is the level of Bhutan’s preparedness - not only to endure and overcome the crisis but also to capitalize on our geographical positioning at a location that accounts for one of the two largest sources of fresh water - the glaciers that feed the river systems of the world.

Unfortunately, as a result of global warming, our expansive glaciers that feed our river systems are fast receding. Our great mountains are balding as a result of insufficient snowfall. Around the world, rainfalls are becoming erratic and undependable, resulting in reduced fresh water supply for human use and consumption, while demand is increasing year after year.

In all likelihood, in twenty years time, the very nature and pattern of agriculture farming will change - because whatever water is available is not enough for drinking purposes. Closer to home, it is quite possible that India will see hugely reduced irrigated farming - because their water will no longer be fit for agriculture production. From being one of the world’s biggest exporters of grains, India is likely to soon become a net importer of food grains, thereby driving global grain prices through the roof.

India’s Green Revolution saw them attain food self-sufficiency but in the process they depleted their ground water reserve that they indiscriminately pumped up for irrigated farming purposes. Then came the Industrial Revolution. A hugely thriving economy meant that the industrial production went up. But this also meant that they produced massive amounts of industrial waste that finally ended up in their river systems and groundwater. As a result, today most of India’s rivers are not fit for agriculture production. Thus, currently, more than 80% of India’s irrigation water is drawn from the ground. Sadly though, it has now been observed that polluted rivers seep into the ground, thus contaminating the groundwater as well - rendering them increasingly unsafe for food production.

The water scarcity in India is so severe that Arlington Institute predicts that India WILL soon run out of fresh usable water. To add to their troubles, it is estimated that India’s population will overtake China’s by the year 2050. So, while the demand for water will increase as a result of population explosion, supply will shrink even further because of poor management of water resources and through uncontrolled pollution.

So, why am I talking of India in the context of water shortages? Simple: India is and will remain relevant in our context. I mean think - can you imagine what it will take to quench the thirst of a staggering 1.6 billion thirsty Indians? And, that too, in a situation where their own water supplies are running out? India is already operating some of South Asia’s largest desalination plants, to augment their drinking water supply. But the truth is that desalination will not solve their problems - it is just too expensive. On the other hand, decontaminating their river systems and underground water will take many, many decades without any guarantee that they will ever succeed.

All these point to one thing: India will soon need to look for alternatives.

............ to be continued.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

NC: Robin Hood of Parliament?

I still refuse to be drawn into the salary increase debate. However, I do want to participate in the side show.

The salary increase, whether you like it or not, is a done deal. No amount of discussions or protestations is going to change anything. As my late boss use to say, the deal is firmly in the pocket. Chapter closed.

The NC has declared that they will defer accepting the increase in their salary until such time the country’s financial health improves. They did not protest that it was illegal or that the increase was unfair. Thus the NC is taking a moral high ground and not protesting on grounds of illegality or unfairness or breach of Constitution. While I admire their show of empathy to the country’s strained financial resources, they should bear in mind that they are the House of review, and not Champions of morality. The Constitution does not confer on them the role of Robin Hood. They should be aware of the implications of their behavior.

The NC’s excuse is that the government has not put in place the fiscal measures to finance the salary increase. Is that any of their business? Leave the governance to the government. The NC cannot preempt the government - if the government fails to do what they are supposed to do, they become responsible. The NC cannot say that the government cannot deploy the bulls because the carts are not in place.

I agree with both the Government and the Opposition - that the salary increase has been passed by the Parliament - it is now law and every body has to respect it. Particularly the NC has to be careful when they say that they will not accept something that has been passed by the Parliament.

There appears to be a tendency among some people to confuse the government for the Parliament. It is important to keep the distinction clear in our minds. The government cannot be blamed for what the Parliament passed. If anything, we have to now wait and see how competent the government is - that will be proven by how ably they will generate resources to finance the pay hike that has been passed by the Parliament.

If some people are unhappy that the salary increase was disproportionate and unfair and inadequate, ask for another increase in a few years time - put it through the Parliament once again. But for now, any further discussion on the issue is futile. Let us move on.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Buddha Dordenma's Progress

The US$ 47.00 million Buddha Dordenma statue currently under construction at Kuensel Phodrang, Thimphu will stand 52 meters tall when completed. It will be the tallest sitting Buddha statue in the world. The Buddha Dordenma Project will cost over US$ 100.00 million when fully completed. The beautiful statue is surrounded by the Kuenselphodrang Recreational Nature Park that covers an area of close to a thousand acres of greenery.

From time to time, I photographed the progress of its construction that span half a dozen years.

August 31, 2009

May 12, 2010

August 01, 2010

 March 03, 2011

February 19, 2014

It is not known how long it will take to fully complete the project. But of one thing I am sure, Kuenselphodrang will be one busy tourist spot, when done!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Yet Again, The Shingkhar-Gorgan Road Rears Its Ugly Head II

Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan

Article 5

“Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment for the benefit of the present and future generations and it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to contribute to the protection of the natural environment, conservation of the rich biodiversity of Bhutan and prevention of all forms of ecological degradation including noise, visual and physical pollution through the adoption and support of environment friendly practices and policies”.

That says it all ….. “Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment …… and it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to contribute to the protection of the natural environment, conservation and prevention of all forms of ecological degradation….”.

Have you done your part in fulfilling your duty towards protection of our natural environment, as charged by the Constitution? Dr. Karma Phuntsho attempts to do his. He makes the following point, in response to my post titled “Yet Again, The Shingkhar-Gorgan Road Rears Its Ugly Head” (

Dear Lopen Yeshe,
Thank you for the well written and well researched article. I hope it will get the attention of the relevant authorities. As much as I stand for the economic development of the local communities and the provision of good and easy communication facilities to people of these areas, I too remain suspicious of the benefit of this road. I am myself deeply connected to this part of Bhutan, with some deep roots in Shingkhar and quarter of my origin in Tsakaling, which lies on the edge of Kurtoe and shall benefit from this new road. In spite of the likely short term economic benefit and convenience this new connection will bring, I am wary as you are of the ecological consequences. The geological make of that terrain is precarious to say the least. Just next door in the Ngalakharchung valley, a whole mountain broke loose a dozen years ago causing not only great ecological disaster but much loss of life and property. The whole Kurichu project was nearly swept away downstream. That was already enough warning for people to be careful when they deal with the steep terrain in these areas.

The economic argument that the local communities can develop with the construction of these roads has no basis. Shingkhar already has road, so does villages in Kurtoe on the other side of the mountain. The connection that will pass through sheer wilderness is not going to add any significant bit to their economic betterment. Some commentators above say that the farmers could easily sell their dairy products. What we know is dairy farming almost immediately stops with the arrival of road as people have quick access to Amul. Shingkhar is a good example. Closure of yak farming and decline in dairy farming started when motor road reached Shingkhar.

The most important question is really about where we envision Bhutan to be in 30, 50 or a 100 years time. Do we want all our valleys and wild life reserves crisscrossed by highways? Do we want gas stations and auto-workshop shacks to prop up in every idyllic valley we have today? Bhutan's main wealth is and will be its environment and culture and this will be our lasting source of income and happiness as well as our contribution to the world. Any untoward intrusion into ecological watershed and spiritual valley such as Shingkhar will not result in economic loss (as we increasingly rely on hydro power and tourism) as well the very unique characteristics which make Bhutan special. It is for this reason, the Shingkhar community campaigned against a golf course and the responsible government of the day saw reason to stop as they have to stop the road. The Shingkhar-Gorgan road plan deserves much more debate than it is given, certainly more than MP salary packages.

Karma Phuntsho


Dr. Karma Phuntsho is among Bhutan’s most learned scholars. He is the founder of the Loden Foundation and authored a number of publications, including the highly acclaimed “The History of Bhutan”. This colossal book is the only book I read in the last 30 years. This book is so readable that during my last trek to the frigid regions of Lunana that lasted 28 days, I carried it with me - so it can keep me company during times of snow and blizzard and foul weather.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Views That Warm The Heart

On the afternoon of 1st July, 2014, I had gone to the Regional Trade Office in Changzamtog, to meet a friend. There I met Mr. Dungtu who had been superannuated just a day back. Until then he was the Regional Director of Thimphu region. He and I go back decades - having been part of the same Ministry during my stint in the government.

Chance meetings among old friends are invariably an occasion to reminiscence about good old times. But there was nothing nostalgic about our conversation. Instead, it verged on the pathetic and the loathsome - on the topic that is currently in vogue - salary increase.

Dungtu and I talked of our individual disgust at the misconceptions, the confusions and lack of understanding about the need or the reason for the salary increase. But a point Dungtu made hit my sweet spot. He told me of his interview with the BBS on the occasion of his receiving the gold medal for long service to the Sa Wa Sum. When asked by the interviewer how he deserved the medal, his answer was:

“No, I simply do not deserve it. This medal too comes as an undeserved gift from the King and the government. Unlike other recipients who claim that they have toiled in the sun, rain and snow and deserve what they got, I would like to say that I have done nothing outstanding in my life to deserve the award nor all the salary and perks I was given during my last forty years as a government employee. I have nothing to show for it. Instead, I have to thank the King and the government for taking care of me all my life. Today as I enter a life of retirement, I go a happy and contended man - that I have been a lucky man to have got more than I deserved”.

Which reminds of another chance meeting with another retired civil servant whose views gave me hope that we are not entirely a hopeless case.

Dasho Tshering Wangda retired several months back, as our Consul General to India. He retired before time, unlike others who fight tooth and nail to remain in service way beyond their time and usefulness. When Dasho Wangda was asked by the RCSC to continue, he adamantly declined to do so. When he was told that the country needed his service, he made this point:

“My service to the Sa Wa Sum will never cease as long as there is life in my body. And, it is not important for me to remain in the government to serve the Sa Wa Sum. Even as a private citizen, I can continue to serve and be useful to the country in a variety of ways”.

Few friends asked me to blog on the issue of this salary increase. I have refused to do so. But now that I am drawn into it, let me simply state the following:

Is there a need for increase in salary? YES!

Do those who are receiving it, deserve it? NO!