Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness
Over the last two decades, Bhutan has made remarkable progress towards reducing national rates of poverty. The key to its success? Happiness. At the core of its development philosophy is Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) — the idea that sustainable development requires a holistic approach and needs to take into consideration all aspects of well-being.

The Origin of GNH

The phrase was first coined by King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, the fourth king of Bhutan, in 1972. He declared that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.” Bhutan created the GNH Index, a measurement of well-being, to use in policymaking. The GNH Index does not measure happiness alone, but also the overall well-being of Bhutanese citizens. It includes nine domains:

  1. Psychological Well-being
  2. Health
  3. Education
  4. Time Use
  5. Cultural Diversity and Resilience
  6. Good Governance
  7. Community Vitality
  8. Ecological Diversity and Resilience
  9. Living Standards

Each domain falls under one of four pillars: (1) good governance, (2) sustainable socio-economic development, (3) cultural preservation and (4) environmental conservation. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, aimed to be accomplished by 2030, fit well together with the GNI. Out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, 16 of them fall under one of the GNH pillars.

Developments in the GNH

In 1990, Bhutan had roughly the same levels of poverty as other South Asian countries, with more than 50% of the population living in poverty. By 2010, Bhutan reduced its rate of poverty to just 4%, while poverty for South Asia, on the whole, dropped to 30%. Although people are falling back into poverty, Bhutan has made tremendous progress towards poverty reduction through its holistic developmental approach.

Reforms that helped to improve the standard of living through various five-year-plans and programs include the commercialization of agriculture, development of infrastructure and increased amount of hydropower projects. The commercialization of agriculture led to about 8% annual growth in crop production per hectare. Moreover, the creation of more roads and highways increased access to education. Notably, much of the poverty reduction has taken place in rural areas, while in urban areas there is a danger of poverty increases.

Hydropower and Carbon Emissions in Bhutan

The main driver of wealth in rural areas is hydropower projects. Almost all of Bhutan’s energy comes from hydropower and the country even sells hydro electricity to neighboring nations. This is a major reason why Bhutan is the only country in the world that is actually carbon negative. This means that it absorbs more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than it produces. The small population size, larger forest cover, relative underdevelopment and use of clean energy make Bhutan a carbon sink rather than a source. This is a remarkable achievement; Luxembourg, which is even smaller than Bhutan, emits four times the amount of carbon. The nation’s (Bhutan’s) lack of carbon emissions falls under the environmental conservation pillar of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness. Yet, it also contributes to economic prosperity and development through hydropower projects.

Bhutan takes a wholly unique approach to govern its citizens by focusing on their happiness. The 1629 legal code of Bhutan states that “If the government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the government to exist.” For hundreds of years, concern for the well-being of its people has informed policymaking. It is the reason why poverty has been drastically reduced, why annual GDP growth is 7.5% and why the country is carbon negative. Countries around the world can draw significant conclusions from Bhutan’s focus on gross national happiness.

Fiona Price
Photo: Pixabay

Ethiopia's Hydroelectric Expansion
Ethiopia is a young, developing country that is currently investing in hydroelectricity to meet the energy demands of a growing population. Currently, only 44% of Ethiopians have access to electricity. As the population continues to grow within the country, citizens’ access to electricity will be a cause for great concern. Ethiopia’s hydroelectric expansion is addressing the energy crisis and powering the country’s economic growth, at the same time.

Naturally Sourced

Ethiopia is well situated to harness the natural, kinetic energy of water because the Nile River runs through the northern part of the country. However, hydroelectricity does require the construction of costly dams. In this same vein, Ethiopia recently built one costing $1.8 billion. While expensive, once built, these dams provide an abundance of energy for many generations. Currently, Ethiopia’s hydroelectric expansion has achieved a 3,813-MW capacity for a population of roughly 108 million people.

As the Blue Nile begins in Ethiopia, the country does not have to worry about other nations damming the river upstream and thus, (hypothetically) cutting off its supply of water. Ethiopia’s geographic advantage thereby increases its energy autonomy. Additionally, hydroelectric energy is renewable and reliable because it is not dependent on variable weather conditions as is the case with other renewable, energy resources.

Growing Demand

Ethiopia’s population is growing at a staggering rate of 2.56% per year. Notably, less than 50% of the population has access to hydroelectricity. To help people escape poverty in the modern age, they must have access to an electrical grid. Access to electricity does not guarantee prosperity, but the lack of electricity almost ensures poverty.

Ethiopia is one of the leading African nations in hydroelectric energy and is continuing to invest in more dams. In 2016, Ethiopia embarked on a joint venture with China and built one of the largest roller-compacted dams in the world. Although dams are vulnerable to droughts — they provide clean, renewable energy that is not dependent on highly variable weather patterns, such as wind and sunlight. Ethiopia cannot solely depend on hydroelectricity and instead, must continue to increase its energy supply to meet an ever-growing demand. Nearly 40% of Ethiopia’s population is younger than 14-years-old. As this population matures, it will further increase the demand for energy within the country. The booming population will continue to slip into poverty if it does not invest in a hydroelectric infrastructure that can support such a population growth rate.

Positive Growth

Hydroelectricity provides abundant energy. Yet, it requires an electrical grid to transport that energy across the country and perhaps equally as important, from an economic standpoint — into neighboring countries. Not only has Ethiopia built more hydroelectric dams, but it has also expanded its entire energy infrastructure. Ethiopia strives to become an energy hub for Africa as it exports electricity to Sudan, Djibouti and Kenya. Although 29.6% of Ethiopia’s population lives below the poverty line, there is a great reason to hope that this number will decrease as the economy further develops. Ethiopia currently has the 13th highest industrial growth rate at 10.5%, annually. The economy is rapidly growing, largely supported by Ethiopia’s hydroelectric expansion.

Noah Kleinert
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Poverty in BhutanBhutan is a small country tucked away in the mountainous terrain of the Himalayas. Known as the Kingdom of Happiness, Bhutan is notable for creating its Gross National Happiness Index. This index serves as a tool for the Government of Bhutan to outline what must be done in order to foster and maintain a holistically sustainable environment. To uphold this index, Bhutan has made it a priority to reduce poverty in Bhutan and better the quality of life for the population.

Poverty in Bhutan

Poverty in Bhutan stems largely from issues with the country’s terrain. The Himalayas, while beautiful, are also difficult to cultivate, traverse and control. Farmers struggle to grow enough crops to maintain a stable income due to the limited access to farmable land. What workable land there is, often rests at the whims of various natural disasters. The lack of education and diverse job opportunities also have made it difficult for many to rise out of their economic situation without help and intervention.

Over the last 10 years, the government has made impressive strides to address poverty in Bhutan. Between 2007 and 2012, poverty dropped from 23% down to 12%. In 2017, Bhutan announced that it had once again cut its poverty rate by half over five years, dropping the number down to 5.8%.

Strategies and Improvements

The value of land productivity has been rising and thus, farming has become a more profitable and sustainable industry. Bhutan cultivates less than 3% of its land but the country has shifted to producing high-value commercial crops. These crops sell for a high price with countries such as India and Bangladesh, making up for the lack of farmable land. Trade agreements have stimulated the value of agricultural exports, increasing the international cash flow into Bhutan’s own economy.

Infrastructure and road production have become vital players in the reduction of poverty in Bhutan. The Government of Bhutan set out to update existing paths, develop new highways and ensure that no town is more than a half-day walk from the closest road. High-quality roads allow for traffic both through and out of rural areas. This increased traffic to urban areas provides easier access to jobs, education and other opportunities for those who previously struggled with inaccessibility.

Hydroelectric projects also play a sizeable role in Bhutan’s efforts to fight poverty. These projects have not only stimulated job growth within rural communities but have also brought in many foreign workers. The presence of these workers increases local spending, benefitting rural communities with income.

Looking Forward

Over the last decade, the rate of poverty in Bhutan has fallen to new lows. While there are still many in the country that struggle with poor living conditions, the government is working to ensure that they too will benefit from the economic changes that Bhutan is trying to normalize. The Gross National Happiness Index accounts for all the people of the country and thus, Bhutan will continue to work at helping its people until all are holistically happy.

Nicolette Schneiderman
Photo: Flickr

Hydroelectric Power in ParaguayHydroelectricity is one of the few renewable energy resources that can be used to generate electricity. Many countries around the globe have used hydroelectricity to varying degrees. One country that has used this form of renewable energy to a largely successful degree has been the South American country of Paraguay. Hydroelectric power in Paraguay has proven quite successful.

Turning to Hydroelectricity

Paraguay uses massive amounts of hydroelectric power to produce much of its electricity. There are a few key reasons why Paraguay turned to hydroelectricity in the first place. One is that the country wanted to simply “increase domestic energy consumption”. Prior to this Paraguay was reliant on oil and diesel imports. Another reason Paraguay turned to hydroelectricity was out of an agreement that it made with Brazil in 1973. The result of this agreement was what became the Itaipu Dam, which was built on The Parana river.

The Itaipu Dam provides a large amount of hydroelectric power in Paraguay. In 2018, it produced 90.8% of the electricity for Paraguay. The Yacyreta Dam was also built for similar reasons. The dam was built in 1973 out of an agreement between Paraguay and Argentina to share the dam. The Parana River, where these dams are located, and the Paraguay River form what is called the Plata River basin, which runs along “Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay.”

Along with The Itaipu Dam and The Yacyreta Dam, Paraguay also has the Acaray Dam. All three of these dams contribute to providing hydroelectric power in Paraguay. Paraguay’s electricity is 100 percent produced from ample renewable resources within the country. In 2018, only 35% of the power production from hydroelectric resources was needed to meet the country’s domestic demand.

The Economy in Paraguay

The excess energy was then exported by Paraguay to other countries. Because of this excess supply of electricity, Paraguay is the fourth largest country to exports electricity. Of the country’s overall GDP, about 7.1 percent of it was attributed to electricity. The fact that Paraguay is able to meet its energy needs with hydropower and then use what electricity it has left over to sell to other countries is most beneficial to its economic situation. The three dams in the country also provide people with jobs.

Despite this abundance of hydroelectric power though, the domestic economy of the country still suffers system losses. The country is also strongly dependant on its agricultural sector, which can be unreliable depending on the weather. However, the situation is not entirely bleak. The Columbia Center on Sustainable Development has offered solutions to this problem. In the future, Paraguay can use its excess electricity to continue to diversify its economy. Doing so would also help in the further reduction of fossil fuel consumption. The country could also use past revenue streams to help predict the best way to maximize revenue in the future.

Hydroelectric power in Paraguay might not be seeing extreme economic gains yet. However, it is providing the country with a sustainable energy source. With the suggestions made by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Development, it is possible that it could improve even further in the future.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Hydropower Dams
A once thriving area for fishing and agriculture, the Mekong River Delta sports a dramatically different look than it did just a century ago. The river, historically wide and abundant, is characterized by large jigsaw puzzles of cracked earth where water has dried up and emptied villages where fishermen once thrived. The place has recently seen a mass exodus, with a million people resettling from southwestern Vietnam alone in the last decade.

Harmful Effects of Hydropower Dams

The region has long been one of the world’s largest inland fisheries, supporting 60 million Cambodians, Vietnamese, Thai and Laotians. It provides Vietnam with 50 percent of its food and 23 percent of its GDP, and Cambodia with 80 percent of its protein intake and 12 percent of its GDP. However, over the last couple of decades, hydropower dams have emerged along the river, threatening local communities and ecosystems while creating large amounts of renewable energy.

According to a UNESCO report, dams on the upper Mekong have resulted in a 70 percent reduction in sediment in the delta. By 2040, estimates determine that these and future dams will block 97 percent of the sediment that moves down the river. This sediment is critical for both rice production and fish life in the Mekong. The loss has been devastating.

Hydropower Dams are Detrimental to the Environment

Even with the detriment to rice production and fishing in the area, the lower Mekong region may still see more hydropower dams. Several countries have created plans to use the area for power, and not without reason. Estimates have determined that dams in the region should be able to produce 30,000 megawatts of electricity, which would be a massive boost to the power capacity of the lower Mekong.

Dams are also an opportunity for foreign investment and could be a huge boost to the GDP of these countries. In fact, the Mekong River Commission’s initial studies estimated that countries in the region could gain $30 billion from dam development, though more recent studies suggest that the area could lose as much as $7 billion from this construction. Despite this, the Mekong River Commission has advised a postponement on the building of these dams until it can further evaluate the risks, and because of the inequitable effects of building the dams, which would likely benefit urban elites while hurting rural farmers and fishermen.

Are there Positive Effects?

Some argue that the presence of these dams may have positive effects on fishing and rice production in the area due to an increased flow of water during dry seasons as dams release water, combatting the effects of drought. Whether this makes up for the loss of nutrient-rich silt and fish life is debatable. However, farmers have recently resorted to using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which can be potentially harmful in the long-run, to boost their crop production.

Though it is unclear whether or not countries in the Lower Mekong Region will continue their plans to build hydropower dams, it is certain that farmers and fishermen will continue to suffer as long as the delta is victim to the already present dams in China and the effects of climate change. However, on a lighter note, there has been a recent increase in international aid and development to the Lower Mekong Region, as well as an effort to maintain biodiversity and create sanctuaries for fish and new fish reserves. Hopefully, these countries will manage to balance the poverty-alleviating industrialization that comes with hydropower, and a shift to industrialized agriculture with the interests of rural farmers, fishermen and biodiversity in the region in mind.

– Ronin Berzins
Photo: Flickr

Hydroelectric Power in Kyrgyzstan
The increasing demand for centralized electrical power has put growing pressure on the government to modernize Kyrgyzstan’s hydroelectric capacity. 1“’s government has sanctioned the expansion of its energy infrastructure to mitigate extreme poverty and improve access to fundamental necessities in rural communities. As a focal point of its export economy, hydroelectric power modules supply 76 percent of its electricity. With lowering water inflow and deteriorating infrastructure, Kyrgyzstan faces a unique problem in mitigating and expanding its hydroelectric import/export industry while balancing the rampant poverty and income inequality among rural and urban communities. The surrounding Kyrgyzstan economy relies mostly on agricultural cultivations and the cotton export industry. With the increased development of modules of hydroelectric power in Kyrgyzstan, the controlled water supply offers the potential for massive growth in the agricultural industry. As a renewable energy source, hydroelectric energy provides the potential to control the rate at which the water flows and of the amount used, which is crucial to energy production.

Socioeconomic Implications

Traditional agricultural methods that rural communities commonly practice create the potential for extensive economic growth through the implementation of an updated hydroelectric system. Through a controlled system, the irrigation of various crops is more efficient with a renewable energy source that has less pollution. With substantial economic implications, hydroelectric power in Kyrgyzstan encourages more commercial enterprises to migrate to agrarian areas where people cannot access basic public services like running water and education as easily.

With 32 percent under the poverty line, the need for a centralized hydroelectrical grid can have vast socioeconomic implications, with an improved water supply system and improved access to basic health necessities. With Kyrgyzstan’s main hydroelectric infrastructure outdated and in need of a sufficient upgrade the inconsistency attached to this older hydroelectric module creates insecurity in basic necessities. With access to basic social programs tentative on ideal weather conditions in urban communities, the expansion of clean renewable energy sources can potentially create an influx of economic prosperity and improve energy efficiency throughout the country.

A focused effort toward improving consistent energy output will allow the quality of life to improve and give the impoverished a promising start toward economic mobility with increasing hydroelectric power in Kyrgyzstan. Reducing toxic chemicals put into the air from traditional cooking/heating methods in rural communities can allow room for a more comprehensive hydropower infrastructure. Rural communities on average tend to use more fossil fuels with more than 60 percent using those perishables due to inconsistencies within hydroelectric distribution and no updated grid system that would make those other methods obsolete.

Government Legislation

Since its independence, Kyrgyzstan established a network of standard practice in energy distribution with a comprehensive legislative agenda. People are underutilizing the potential for an increased hydroelectric presence as a larger kinetic energy source with geographically crucial bodies of water producing 5-8 billion kW·h per year and the country only using 3 percent. A more consistent hydroelectric grid is necessary for Kyrgyzstan’s economy to boost its agricultural sector. The government introduced the National Energy Program that assists in renovating abandoned hydropower plants and initiates constructing new ones. Additionally, government sectors have committed to actively work on the cultivation of Kyrgyzstan’s massive untapped energy sector. Along with a growing private sector and updated technology to improve the essential food and health infrastructures hydroelectric power in Kyrgyzstan will increase the capacity of its economy.

Adam Townsend
Photo: Flickr