J-Term Practica, 2016
Consequences of Development Policy
As students in international relations, many of whom will be going on to work in international policy, it is always important to keep our personal ideologies in check when assessing policy outcomes. The trip to Bhutan offered us the opportunity to study Bhutan’s famous Gross National Happiness policy (GNH), a development Consequences of Development Policy policy that idealistically blends spiritual and material well-being. In interviews with national advisers and local community members, we learned about the intended and unintended consequences of a development policy that does not prioritize economic growth.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Dasho Benji, Chief Advisor to the National Environment Commission, about the environmental initiatives that are a part of GNH. In one particular story (Benji is a great storyteller), he spoke about traveling to a rural farm to take care of a wild boar population that was destroying the crops (Benji is one of the few people permitted to hunt in Bhutan, a Buddhist nation, and the boar population is only controlled when necessary). Benji, in an effort to give to the community, planned to buy his food there rather than bringing it. Upon arrival there was no food to buy in the whole area, the board having ravaged everything. Environmental preservation inBhutan creates human-wildlife conflicts that directly impact the livelihoods of rural farmers, many of whom stay up in 72-hour shifts to protect the small areas they have to farm from surrounding wildlife. The most remote areas of Bhutan do not necessarily reap the benefits of GNH and, in some cases, they might experience negative consequences as a result of it.
Secular policy-makers in Bhutan continue to come from the same social strata. A lack of social and academic equity for rural scholars and for women (who often leave school to be their families) makes it near-impossible to diversify the nation’s policies. Dr. Karma Puntsho, a former Buddhist monk from a rural area of the country, expressed to us hiss preference for a development policy that does not ignore the basic needs of Bhutanese citizens in favor of environmental protection. He emphasized that hydroelectric power, while an environmental challenge, is the lesser of many evils that contribute to the development of the country’s poor, rural areas. Similarly, he advocates for low-impact, high-yield tourism as a policy with little, though not insignificant, impacts on the nation’s environmental preservation efforts. We were also able to speak to advocates from local NGOs who are working to create a more equitable educational and economic system.My short stay in Bhutan exposed me to the great national beauty
My short stay in Bhutan exposed me to the great national beauty of the country, and I can certainly see why policy makers are working to protect that beauty. These policy makers struggle, however, to find a balance between meeting its citizens’ basic human needs while leaving the land untouched. I personally came into the trip with a simplistic vision of Bhutan’s GNH initiatives and have learned a bit more about the complications of developing policy initiatives and the ample effects they can have, both positive and negative.