Clean, Fresh Water Essential to Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness

450 300 Stroud Water Research Center


Beverly M. Payton, Payton Communications

Stroud Water Research Center and Waterkeeper Alliance will help the tiny Himalayan nation test and monitor its freshwater resources.

AVONDALE, Pa.— A small group of scientists from Stroud Water Research Center will visit Bhutan, in early November to join Waterkeeper Alliance in helping the nation test and monitor its water quality.

The delegation will arrive on November 5, the second of a three-day international conference organized by The Centre for Bhutan Studies and Gross National Happiness Research. The next day, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., president of Waterkeeper Alliance, will speak at the GNH conference about the importance of good water quality to health and happiness. Waterkeeper Alliance is an international organization of more than 260 Waterkeepers protecting waterways across the globe which now includes the Thim Chu Waterkeeper in Bhutan.

“Our visit will be part implementation and part exploration,” said Bernard W. Sweeney, Ph.D., director of Stroud Water Research Center whose scientists will provide equipment and training. “We will be helping to establish water monitoring stations but also collecting samples to increase the knowledge and understanding of the region’s water resources.” Sweeney expects the Stroud Center research team will find the water quality is reasonably good.

“We know there is a strong correlation between water quality and population density and the population density in Bhutan is low and mostly concentrated in the lowlands. Plus, the country is about 60 percent forested — another good indicator of good water quality,” said Sweeney.

“In Bhutan, we have lots of data about water quantity, but not about water quality,” said Karma Dupchu chief hydrology officer at Bhutan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs.

“Our purpose in establishing the Thim Chu Waterkeeper is to ultimately empower the people to take care of their waterways by participating in citizen science water monitoring,” said Sharon Khan, international director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “Bhutan has some of the most pristine waterways in the world. Fortunately, the country prides itself on its environmental health.”

In 1972 Bhutan’s 4th king rejected Gross National Product as a measure of the nation’s prosperity and introduced the aspirational goal of Gross National Happiness (GNH). The philosophy states that GNH stands on four pillars: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, preservation of culture and environmental conservation.

The interdisciplinary research team from Stroud Center will include Sweeney, a stream ecologist; Anthony Aufdenkampe, Ph.D., an organic geochemist who studied steep gradient rivers; and Beth Fisher, a Ph.D. candidate with expertise in soils. Khan and two Stroud Center board members will accompany the scientists.