Yale Himalaya Initiative

environment | livelihood | culture

Brief on Bhutan Foundation’s Visit

Bhutan is a small country perched in the Himalaya and is known for introducing the idea of Gross Happiness Index. Bhutan aims for conserving its culture while embracing sustainable development. To further these ideas, recently, officials from Ugyen Wangchuck Institute of Conservation and Environment (UWICE), Bhutan and Bhutan Foundation, Washington D.C were hosted  by the Yale Himalaya Initiative (YHI). Prof. Timothy Gregoire (a YHI steering committee member) hosted a lunch for the guests at the Graduate Club in New Haven for the guests. Following the lunch, I, along with the Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Andrew Quintman, who is teaching Tibetan Buddhism at Yale accompanied the team for a brief campus tour. The officials visited Yale’s main libraries: Sterling Memorial Library and the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The Sterling Memorial Library after being refurbished has been re-opened for public visits and Beinecke has one of the world’s largest repositories of rare book and manuscript collections, including materials on Buddhism.

In the afternoon, the team met with Yale Himalaya Initiative (YHI) steering committee members and faculty from the school of Public Health and Jackson Institute of Global Affairs to discuss the possibilities of future research collaboration. Sir Peter Crane, Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental informed the delegation about schools new on-line courses on religion and ecology, and Himalayan Diversity. He discussed how these courses can benefit students interested in the Himalayan region. The group also discussed about School of Public Health’s current collaboration with the University of the Medical Sciences, Bhutan works could be continued and strengthened.

In the evening, the Program Director of Yale-Himalaya Initiative, Alark Saxena welcomed the Bhutanese officials and the public at School of Forestry and Environmental Studies for a presentation on Bhutan. Following his welcome, President of Bhutan Foundation Dr. Bruce Bunting and Dr. Tshewang R. Wangchuk provided an overview of Bhutan Foundation. They outlined projects and activities implemented in Bhutan and how foundation has been involved in building capacities of the Bhutanese.

The Program Director of Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE), Dr. Ngawang Norbu presented about the institute and its involvement in protecting and conserving the environment and biodiversity of Bhutan. The event was title “The Last Himalayan Refugia: Insights into Bhutan from a Conservation Standpoint.” He elucidated on the intricate relationship of interdependence through his example of a bird species found in Bhutan that migrates to Congo. He shared issues and challenges faced by Bhutan in the face of rapidly changing world and the threat of climate change.

The presentation was concluded by Dr. Tshering Tempa from UWICE with his interesting work on tiger conservation in Bhutan. His presentation using state-of-art camera traps to study and shielding cameras from wildlife damage caught attention of the audience. His finding is the first report in the world on tiger dwelling at a height as high as 2000m above sea level.

The day came to an end with a wonderful dinner at the house of two faculty members who had recently visited Bhutan.

Visit by the Bhutanese officials strengthened the ties between Yale and Bhutan, which can be traced back to 1992 when the first Bhutanese, Dr. Sangay Wangchuk came to study at FES. Since then, more than 20 Bhutanese students have studied at Yale and created a “Yale mafia” as rightly described by Dr. Bruce Bunting.

Bhutan faces enormous challenges from environmental issues such as land erosions, rock falls, mudslides, flash floods, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, human-wildlife conflict, rapid urbanization and development and of late, climate change. The country is located in a very active earthquake zone and frequent earthquakes in the recent past have threatened livelihood of people. Although there are myriad of problems to be addressed, problems like adapting to climate change, disaster risk reduction and preparedness need immediate attention. There is also a need for studying impacts of climate change on public health and establishing diseases monitoring system, which Yale and Bhutan Foundation could collaborate. There are many opportunities where Yale and Bhutan Foundation can collaborate. Some of the possible themes for collaboration are: conservation and livelihood, air quality improvement, vector borne disease control due to changing climate, and conservation of Bhutan’s cultural heritage. 

This blog is contributed by Sangay Dorji, a candidate of Master of Environmental Management at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He specializes on Human Dimensions of Environmental Management with a particular focus on climate change adaptation. He is also interested in Religion and Ecology. He can be reached via s.dorji@yale.edu. Back in Bhutan, he works with agriculture department.