Talking Trash in Kathmandu

One big difference between Nepal and Bhutan: Garbage levels.

The view from Bhutan's Paro airport: The Himalayas close enough to touch, and not a piece of litter in sight. (Photo: whybhutan via Flickr)

After 30-plus hours of flying en route to Bhutan, the Why Bhutan? team touched down for a layover in Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu. We spent the day weaving among the crowds at the Boudhanath Stupa and the Swayambhunath Monkey Temple, both massive and stunning sacred structures.

Bhutan is facing increased movement into cities and away from the subsistence farming that kept much of the population rooted to the land. Tourism is also increasing year to year. More bodies mean more waste.

However, the sheer volumes of garbage along the roads and streets were an equally striking aspect of the city. Close to 400 million tons of solid waste is produced in the Kathmandu Valley each day. The district’s annual rate of growth, one of the highest in the world at close to 5 percent, is causing serious sustainability problems.

Leaving behind mixed images of trash and temples, we boarded the plane to Bhutan, anticipating landing in a cleaner place, a country where environmental conservation is integrated into governance and development strategy. In 1974, the King declared that Bhutan must remain at least 60 percent forested. Currently, around 72 percent of its land remains undeveloped forest.

We stepped off the plane at the airport in Paro, Bhutan’s second city, and into the wonder of the surrounding view of the lushly covered Himalayas. We drove through the city, admiring a clean contrast to Kathmandu in the maintenance of relatively clean sidewalks and streets.

When Bhutan’s first constitution was created in 2008, its fifth Article was dedicated to the environment. Every Bhutanese citizen is called on to act as a trustee of the nation’s natural resources and environment for the benefit of present and future generations. However, Bhutan is facing increased movement into cities and away from the subsistence farming that kept much of the population rooted to the land. Tourism is also increasing year to year. More bodies mean more waste.

As Why Bhutan? moves through the country, we hope to offset our added waste by exploring how these changes will affect the behavior of the Bhutanese people and the potential impact on the land.

This post comes from the Why Bhutan? film team, which is currently following four endurance athletes as they make their way across Bhutan by foot and by bike over 42 days in an unprecedented border-to-border crossing. Follow the journey at whybhutan.com.

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