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Things aren’t looking good. But there’s a lot we can do

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 11:56

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche talks to Kuensel about Coronavirus and what we can do to steady our rising anxieties and fears, and why Bhutan is lucky to have a visionary and an empathetic Monarch to assure and guide us through such turbulent times.

What do you make of the Coronavirus pandemic in the world today?

I’m supposedly a Buddhist who has heard thousands of times about the impermanence and uncertainty of our lives. I’ve even written and taught that through a lot of my life. But when Covid-19 hit, I saw those teachings hadn’t really entered my heart, and that I’d been teaching them without totally believing them,

Covid-19 has made us feel very small. We always thought our lives were in our own hands. That’s why we go to school and make money, thinking that will give us control of our lives. But apparently not. When a tiny bug hits us, we are down to our knees and to the most primitive solutions like washing our hands. Even mighty countries and formidable systems are falling.

It’s interesting that even the most powerful and supposedly sober and well-established nations and institutions are now busy blaming each other for not producing correct counts of infections and deaths, as if that’s possible in such unexpected circumstances. If we’d known about Covid-19 a year earlier, we’d have better tests and could produce more accurate counts. So what this blame-game shows us, both individually and at the national level, is how quickly we resort to blaming others whenever we feel threatened.

It’s so sad and unfortunate that so many lives are being lost due to Covid-19. But even scarier is the uncertainty it produces and our seeming inability to learn from what’s happening and move forward differently.

From New York to Siliguri, everybody seems to be talking about the economy and getting life back to business as usual. But instead, this could actually be a turning point in the state of our world where we’re brave enough not to think in terms of business as usual.

For the first time in memory, Delhi has blue skies and clean air, greenhouse gas emissions are way down, the Ganges water is clear, and other species can survive and be themselves. Statistics show these will save far more lives than those lost to Covid-19. So instead of cranking up the old economy, it may be high time to think of a different kind of economy.

Ours is a very small nation and we’re very fortunate that, under our caring and dedicated King, the administration has done and is still doing an incredible job protecting our people.

But it’s now also high time for nations big and powerful enough to send people to the moon – nations that can really make big differences – to be more humble and less arrogant, to stop having the mentality of ruling the world, and to do things differently. Small though we are, our nation could be an example of a new way forward.

 

Understandably, there is a lot of fear and anxiety going around. People are afraid of contracting Covid-19 themselves, or dread that someone they love might contract it. Is there anything you can share that can help people deal with such emotions and thoughts?

Initially, this is going to be difficult for a lot of people. But it’s also something that, in quite a short time, we can train ourselves to handle.

It’s difficult because there is a clear and present danger, with the virus infecting a lot of people and the whole world collapsing in many ways. In such situations, our minds always tend to filter the news and choose the negative bits.

But while the situation is certainly very precarious, there’s a lot we can do. First, we can simply take precautions. Doctors and other experts have told us many ways to take care of ourselves. And we can remind ourselves that a lot of infected people are also getting cured.

At a deeper level, we can notice how we so often look at problems in our life from just one angle. But we don’t have to pick such a very narrow and limited approach.

Part of learning in our lives is always learning how to adapt to new situations. And here that means dealing not only with the pandemic situation right now but also with what will happen after the pandemic.

So we don’t necessarily have to think how this is going to hit our economy and hurt our way of living. Instead, we can always think that this will change the way we live. And we can be sure that a lot of those changes can be quite positive, not only individually but also for all the earth’s inhabitants.

In the past few decades, we have lost a lot of awareness of how to take care of ourselves and how to take care of the earth – mainly because we just have this incredible and unreasonable greed. Many of us may even have become what we call “wealthier” – in other words that we may have a bigger bank balance or a bigger house.

And yet, we have not managed really to appreciate our lives. Forget the richness of our simple present moment-by-moment life. We have never even managed to read the books that we’ve always wanted to read or to listen to the music that we’ve always wanted to hear.

For now, I am sure that anxiety and worry will come. But often, when that happens, we’re not even aware that it’s anxiety. Instead we are always to trying to fix, to sort out, and to find an answer to a problem that we think is causing the anxiety.

Instead, we could just simply watch that anxiety without looking for an answer or solution, and even without looking for why the anxiety is there or judging whether it is valid or invalid. If we can just simply look at and watch the worry and anxiety we feel, we will find in it the treasury of our rich and infinite so-called ‘life’.

Most of us in Bhutan are Buddhists, and some of us are Hindus. Whichever spiritual tradition you follow, take advantage of having that wealth of faith and devotion. Pray to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the gods and goddesses. Pray not just to overcome this present crisis. Pray that whatever happens – may it lead us to a greater good – not just for ourselves but also for the generations to come.

 

As Buddhists, how do we strike a balance between accepting how little control we have in this kind of situation and not letting acceptance turn into hopelessness?

Quintessentially, the Buddha taught us to be mindful of the truth. Knowing the truth, living with the truth, accepting the truth, and surrendering to the truth free us from all kinds of expectations, assumptions, hopes, fears, and planning. That begins individually with us.

So we can begin by accepting with humility that not everything is within our own control, and not everything that we now value so insatiably is actually that valuable. By doing just this, we will already know how to live on this earth humbly, harmoniously, reasonably and healthily.

 

As a nation and citizen of the world, how should we respond to the Coronavirus pandemic?

As a nation we are lucky we have a very visionary, caring and dedicated King. I am sure that we will get out of this present crisis. But I am also certain that we all must now think ahead to how we will continue post-Coronavirus in an already very changed world. So maybe this is a good opportunity for us to re-emphasize, recharge, and re-jumpstart the vision of Gross National Happiness.

 

Rinpoche is currently under lockdown in India in Bir. What do you do to kill time?

I spend my lockdown life with the anxiety of the unknown, and hopeful every day and every moment that someone has found some sort of solution. As a Buddhist, I practice, contemplate, and pray to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to free us not just from this particular calamity but also from all outer, inner and secret calamities happening now and that are going to come in the future. I’m also managing to read books that I’ve never had time but always wanted to read.

Contributed by  Kencho Wangdi (Bonz)

The writer is a former editor of Kuensel.

Most Bhutanese still engaged in agriculture 

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 11:54

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Bhutan’s overall employment rate stands at 97.3 percent or 311,059 persons employed according to the Labour Force Survey Report 2019 released by the National Statistics Bureau.

Of the total employed, more than 50 percent are male. About 70.2 percent of the employed are in rural areas.

According to the report, an employed person is someone who worked as paid employees, own-account workers and contributing family workers. It also includes persons with a job but not at work during the reference period.

NSB surveyed in November and December 2019.

“Of the employed, the agriculture sector employs 51.1 percent, and the lowest (14%) in the industry sector,” report stated.

Going by the report, there are more women employed in the agriculture sector (61.7 percent) than men, and most of the people employed in the agriculture sector are in rural. While in urban areas, more than 70 percent work in the service and industry sector.

In the agriculture sector, Dagana (75.4%) and Samtse (73.7%) has the highest proportion of employed persons, while Thimphu (6.5%) has the lowest.

However, 46.4 percent of the employed does not have any form of education.

The employment rate over the five years has remained above 96 percent. The highest employment rate was in 2016 with 97.9 percent and the lowest in 2018 (96.6%).

The report stated that a little more than half (50.8%) of the respondents were working in “agriculture farming” followed by the “private business” (24.7%) and only 6.9 percent were working in the “civil service.”

Trashigang with 99.7 percent has the highest proportion of employed persons followed by Trashiyangtse, and the lowest is in Sarpang and Thimphu.

“Among the age groups, 60-64 has the highest proportion of employed persons and the lowest in 20-24,” the report stated.

When it comes to contributing family worker, there are more females (41.8%) participating in family work in agriculture than males. The contributing family worker is a household member who is engaged in the family business or farming activity without any payment.

On the contrary, there are more males (36.5%) as regular paid employees.

The report stated that the overall mean monthly income is Nu 17,449, and median monthly earning is Nu 13,000.

Thimphu has the highest mean monthly income with Nu 23,011 while Dagana has the lowest with Nu 10,142.

How will Covid-19 change Bhutan?

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 11:52

The Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented in every respect. The International Monetary Fund, in its latest outlook, predicts that the global economy will contract by -3 percent in 2020. Emerging markets and developing economies are forecast to contract by -1 percent. As a result, developing countries will experience significant reduction in living standards and reversal of economic and social gains achieved in the last few decades. 

Growth across South Asia will be a paltry 1 percent. Bhutan is likely to experience a steeper drop in GDP than we did during the 2008 financial crisis (4.7 percent growth in 2008-09) and the Indian Rupee shortfall in 2012/13 (2.1 percent growth in 2012-13). The impact on our construction and tourism sectors are very visible now. Revenues from our exports, particularly commodities, manufacturing and electricity, will decline due to the fall in economic activities in India and Bangladesh, which make up ~70% and 20% of our export markets respectively.

Bhutan is fortunate to have His Majesty the King personally leading our response to Covid-19. The government, under His Majesty’s guidance, has put in place a package of measures to support the economy. The economic stimulus plan of Nu 30bn, equivalent to 20% of 2018 GDP, is comparable to that of any developed country and more substantial than those of many countries in our development cohort. In addition, loan repayment deferrals and interest waiver for the next three months, individuals and families have access to the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu while businesses can avail more affordable working capital.

We are in new territory. Our behaviours and attitudes will change as we consider the implications of Covid-19 on our economy and our society. 

The pandemic has yet again exposed the structural issues of our economy– dependence on certain sectors and markets and the fragility of our supply chain. We have to consider several questions as we develop our new economic vision and strategy. How do we build a more resilient economy? Which sectors should we bet on? How should our education change? What balance should we target between import substitution and dependence on regional and global supply chains? What will the likely pushback to globalisation and move towards localisation post Covid-19 mean for Bhutan?

Our ways of working will change. We now know that, with the right technology and tools, working remote is possible and practical. Companies and indeed the civil service will reconsider ways of working. Working from home and flexible working will become more acceptable. Coming out of this downturn, some companies and the government may find out that we have far too many employees and invested far too much into office spaces.

Covid-19 will also accelerate the adoption of digital solutions. We have seen the value of digital solutions across multiple areas such as remote working and online education. Individuals are increasingly using their mobile banking apps for money transfer and other day to day transactions. There are reports that more Bhutanese in urban areas have signed for online services. We will see increased investments into digital across different sectors over the next few years.

This crisis is a huge blow to the dreams and aspirations of the youth (between 15 and 24 years old), who form 20% of our population. We can further expect the youth unemployment rate (11.9% in 2019) to increase. We must also remember that for many Bhutanese (below 40 years) and their families, this is the second economic crisis in the last 8 years and the third in over a decade. We have a generation of people scarred by multiple economic crises, which will have depressed their living standards and deprived many of economic opportunities. This means as much government effort and resources as possible will need to directed at creating opportunities for groups of people such as the youth who are far more impacted and will find it harder to recover.

In these times of huge market and economic uncertainty, the finances of individuals and companies will have been put under immense strain. Capital preservation will be a priority for everybody. The attitudes and behaviours of businesses and individuals will change, with preference for savings and similar products. In the short to medium term, investments by businesses and consumption spending by individuals will decline. Banks and other financial services companies have opportunities to develop products and tools which can help individuals and businesses plan and manage their finances better. We could also see the growth of financial advisers and a financial planning market. 

We must all pride ourselves in our ability to organise and support each other over the last few months. We have seen many selfless and compassionate actions organisations and individuals. All of us are immensely grateful to all, particularly our doctors, nurses and everybody in the health sector. Our culture and tradition has in-built social security and support mechanisms which have enabled us to respond effectively. However, we must agree that there are opportunities to further strengthen and complement our informal support mechanisms with a more formal social security system. This means developing and implementing a policy and structure for supporting the unemployed and the vulnerable, using market instruments such as insurance products and similar instruments (e.g. for business interruption and income protection), and clarifying the role of insurers, civil society organisations and the government within such a system. 

The next 12-18 months will be uncertain as the world looks for a vaccine and work hard to prevent a second wave. There are no doubts we will triumph. In the process, we have to make many bold and difficult decisions and significant policy changes, and embark on more ambitious and long term initiatives to build a more robust society and economy.

Contributed by  Dorji Wangchuk

dorji.wangchuk@outlook.com

Footballers head back to village, some apply for kidu

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 11:49

Thinley Namgay

Professional footballers playing for the 13 football clubs registered with the Bhutan Football Federation are among the people who have applied for kidu.

With the Covid-19 pandemic affecting the business of club owners and football tournaments suspended, clubs owners are struggling to look after their players.

Thimphu City FC’s owner, Hishey Tshering, said his club had been providing accommodation to eight players with a monthly rent of Nu 17,000. As of now, he is still paying the rent. The owner depends on his tourism business to fund the club. However, with business down, the club is affected.

“Five of my players have applied for the kidu,” said Hishey Tshering. There are 23 players, two managers and a coach with Thimphu City FC. From 23 players, only two have regular jobs. Ten of them are national players.

Transport United FC has been paying a rent of Nu 20,000 for nine players. However, the club’s board member, Yeshey Samdrup, said that the club had to send the players to their villages since April 26. “We will not be able to pay the house rent and other expenditure from next month.”

“Almost all the players from my club have applied for the kidu. We are waiting for the confirmation,” said Yeshey Samdrup.

Tsenda Dorji is one of the Transport players leaving for his village. He said he would go to his village in Trashigang and help his parents.  “I will keep training in the village. I think the football league this year will not continue, but I am determined that I can sustain my life by focusing on football. But we need to be fit,” said Tsenda Dorji.

Tsenda Dorji joined Transport United recently. Until last month the club paid salary for the 12 players who depend on football for livelihood.

Paro FC’s Technical Director and Head Coach, Puspalal Sharma, said that to sustain the club and at the same time not to let the players and other employee struggles, the club has decided to deduct the salary from this month. “Those with high pay scale will see a drastic cut,” he said.

Until last month the club has paid full salary to all the players.

“Our players can sustain as our salary scale is more. We have also instructed the players with more salary not to apply for the kidu. But few players with salary scale below 20,000 have applied,” said Puspalal Sharma.

Earlier the club used to provide accommodation, but since January this year, they increased the salary and withheld the accommodation. There are 22 players in the club including six national players.

At present all the players of the BFF academy and other senior national players are staying home. National players continue to get monthly salary.

Covid-19 triggers increased agricultural activities 

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 11:35

Choki Wangmo 

As businesses in the service sector plummeted in Covid-19’s wake, Bhutanese are turning to agriculture again.

The country is more focused than ever on the security of the food supply chain that many laid-off workers now want to keep farming even if the current situation improves.

As of yesterday, 17 groups of laid-off workers applied for technical and land development support from the Thimphu dzongkhag. Most of the applicants were hotel owners who wanted to engage their workers on 106.4 acres of private fallow land.

More than a month ago, a tour guide Chimmi Dema was jobless after the government enforced tourist restriction. Along with seven other  tour guides, she started vegetable cultivation on a two-acre land.

After three weeks of land development activities with the help of the agriculture department, they cultivated vegetables such as tomato, cabbage, carrot, beans and chilli.

Chimmi Dema and her team want to cultivate in the future. “Tourists are seasonal, and we can work on vegetable production during the lean season. Growing organic food has become more important and precious.” She hopes that her farming experience would make her a better tour guide. “I can use this experience to share Bhutan with the guests,” she said.

In the same group, Kishor Kumar Thapa said that coming together on the farm had taught him essential skills. “The pandemic impact might take years to cool off. I want to work on the farm and grow vegetables.”

A tour company, Bridge to Bhutan has employed their staff in vegetable cultivation at Sangaygang on their private land. The team has built a greenhouse and a nursery. In the next few days, they will transplant the sapling in more than an acre land in Kabesa.

The founder of the company, Phuentsho Norbu, said that the company had plans to start vegetable cultivation before the pandemic, but it couldn’t materialise. The company wants to continue the farming practice and involve friends and family members of its staff.

“Farming is closely related to tourism. In the past, when I said Bhutan is 100 percent organic, I was not so confident. Now, I can proudly say we are organic through the first-hand experience,” Phuentsho Norbu said, adding that the company is exploring ways to develop agri-tours for the guests in the future.

“Agriculture is the way forward, and we can be self-reliant, although it is a long-term investment. The hotels can buy from local vendors instead of importing,” he added.

The Six Senses hotel branch in Paro has also employed half of their 90 staff in large-scale cultivation of fruits, grains and vegetables. The hotel is paying 70 percent of the salary as of now. The lodge manager, Roy Podemann, said that most of the staff came from a farming family but had no experience. “Everyone is learning the skills now.”

The farm products will be distributed among employers, monasteries, visually-impaired school in Drugyel and at the hotel for guests. “We can share our experiences with our guests in the future and maybe involve them even.”

“It is possible to grow our food which is nutritious and organic.”

Recently, the agriculture department, in collaboration with Thimphu dzongkhag leased 21.81 acres of land to laid-off workers in the dzongkhag.

Yesterday, the agriculture department in consultation with the Tourism Council of Bhutan allocated plots to 24 tour guides divided into four groups who will kick start the commercial farming project soon.

Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said that the ministry would support interested individuals and groups in farming even after the pandemic. Lyonpo said that the ministry was worried that the groups would leave cultivation halfway after the department’s investments in land development and farm inputs.

“The ministry would provide CSI loans at a reduced interest rate, land resurfacing and development support and direct inputs such as seeds, electric fences and technical support. If the interested individuals and groups can continue in the future, it is a move towards achieving nation’s food security goals” Lyonpo said.

He said that people requested for fallow land in Thimphu and Paro, which was not possible.

The ministry and dzongkhag agriculture officers help the agricultural groups with protected cultivation technology like polytunnel, polyhouse, irrigation, farm mechanisation, and terracing, among others.

Thimphu Dzongkhag agriculture officer, Sonam Zangpo, said cultivation would be in full swing next month.

Improving agricultural market facilities are among the reprioritised activities of the 12th Plan.

New species discovered

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 12:54
Bhutan discovered two ??ℎ??? snail species namely, ??ℎ??? ?????? Gittenberger & Stelbrink and ??ℎ??? ??????? Gittenberger & Gyeltshen. The news was published by a team of officials from the National Biodiversity Centre, Bhutan (NBC), Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research and the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre, the Netherlands in ZooKeys in April 2020. The species were discovered from brooklet with a prayer wheel along the road in Geneykha, Thimphu in 2018.

World Bank commits USD5M to Bhutan for Covid-19 response

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 12:06

MB Subba

The World Bank (WB) has committed to provide USD 5 million (M) as support for Bhutan to help prevent, detect, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic and strengthen the country’s public health preparedness.

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering and WB’s acting country representative Tenzin Lhaden signed the agreement yesterday in Thimphu.

The support programme would provide emergency support to enhance Bhutan’s capacity to detect the cases of disease and ensure prompt contact tracing and early warning systems.

It is also expected to help train frontline workers, procure test kits, medical goods and supplies, acquire laboratory equipment, and support laboratory experts.

The Ministry of Health will implement the project.

“We are thankful to the World Bank for the response in a record short period of time, which will help the Royal Government of Bhutan to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen our capacities to deal with future public health risks,” Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said.

The finance minister said that the support project would help the country equip designated health facilities with personal protective equipment and hygienic materials and increase the diagnostic capacity of laboratories for responding to public health emergencies.

“It will enhance the laboratories to handle harmful infectious diseases and strengthen public institutions to coordinate and better manage response activities,” he said.

According to the WB, the project will also equip designated health facilities with protective equipment and hygienic materials and increase the diagnostic capacity of critical medical services providers as they cope with a potential increase in demand.

The fund would be used for establishing specialized units in selected hospitals, design protocols to increase the availability of hospital beds, and ensure safe water and basic sanitation in health facilities, including the disposal of medical waste management.

WB’s Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, Mercy Tembon, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented, and the World Bank’s rapid response will help save lives across Bhutan.”

She said: “Our support will help Bhutan improve its health infrastructure and equip the country with the resources and expertise it needs to fight the spread of the coronavirus and protect the livelihoods of its people.”

To raise awareness about the risk and potential impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, the project will support communications campaigns across Bhutan. Such initiatives are aimed at ensuring the real-time exchange of information on social distancing measures and promote good health habits and learning about the virus spread, treatment, and prevention.

The project is financed from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s concessional credit window for developing countries, through the World Bank Group’s Covid-19 “FastTrack Facility”.

The project is part of the USD14 billion (B) fast-track package rolled out by the World Bank Group to strengthen the COVID-19 response in developing countries and shorten the time to recovery.

“All eight countries of South Asia have requested and received this emergency support from the Bank, and we’ve been working closely with the government to ensure support is tailored to country circumstances and meets their specific needs,” Tenzin Lhaden said.

Mongar FCB has gathered stock for three months 

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 12:05

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

As the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) gears up to stock up essentials for six months, Mongar FCB godown in Hurungpam has received almost half of it as of date.

Until last week, the depot has received 422 metric ton (MT) of rice, 15MT of pulses, 14MT of edible oil, 14MT of sugar from its six months’ quota of 811MT of rice, 79.84MT of oil, 32.57 MT of pulses. The record shows almost 50 percent of rice and pulses, and 20 percent of oil reached the depot so far.

The depot’s manager, Birkha Bdr Darjee, said around 13 trucks ferrying mixed essentials from Samdrujongkhar regional FCB depot drop goods to the depot every week.

Around 700MT are stored in the godown that has a storing capacity of 850MT. FCB officials said the essential goods are distributed daily and additional 200MT would be stored to reach its full capacity.

“Then we will start stocking up at the multipurpose hall of Mongar HSS,” Birkha  Bdr Darjee said.

Meanwhile, the sales and distribution from the depot have soared up by manifolds after the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 19 to April 26, the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) depot has sold 3.65MT of the pulse (Dal), 6.92MT of salt, 13.66MT oil, 3.49MT of sugar and 163.98MT of rice in slightly over a month’s time, which is several times more than its regular sales.

In February month, the depot sold only 7MT of rice, 1.05MT of dal, 2MT of oil and 1MT of salt.

FCB officials said customers, mainly retailers and wholesalers came rushing at the beginning of this month buying from a few bags to 3MT of rice. “But the sale has slightly dropped now,” the manager said.

The essentials were supplied to the wholesalers and retailers of Mongar, Lingmethang, Gyalpoizhing, Kilikhar, Yadi town, Silambi and Gondue gewogs, besides the 18 farm shops in the dzongkhag.

It is not known when the consignment for the whole six months would be deposited at the depot.

SAARC Development Fund marks 10 years of project funding

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 12:04

Staff Reporter 

SAARC Development Fund (SDF) marks 10 years today. In the past 10 years, SDF invested in the 90 projects being implemented across the eight SAARC Member States under the three SDF funding windows: Economic, Infrastructure and Social Windows.

With the recent activation of SDF’s Economic and Infrastructure Windows, SDF aims to foster synergies across the region to fund projects related to energy, power, transportation, tourism and other related areas. So far, 48 projects have successfully completed in the SAARC Member States.

SDF has an authorised capital of USD 1.5 Billion and total capital base of USD 529.37 million. The cumulative fund commitment under the three funding windows of including MSME Program allocation stands at USD 198.23 million. Of which, SDF has disbursed about USD 62 million.

“SDF’s mission was clear from the beginning – to promote Regional Integration and Economic Cooperation among the SAARC Member States through project funding and collaboration,” said CEO of SDF, Sunil Motiwal (PhD).  “The last 10 years have offered us new projects, partners for co-funding and many new interventions to enable SDF to become a strong regional financial institution.”

The CEO said that SDF increasingly realizes how critical these regional projects are. For instance, SDF’s flagship health project – Maternal & Child Health Care in all the member states for USD 15 million – is geared towards reducing child and maternal mortality, and ensuring that every infant and woman of childbearing age in the SAARC region is immunised.

Similarly, the SDF-funded project, Strengthening the livelihood initiative for home-based workers in the SAARC Region, popularly known as SABAH, was implemented with funding of USD 21.07 million.

“Along with the projects, SDF considers the partnership with the government of Bhutan and the support of all the eight SAARC Member States, an immense privilege in traversing this journey of promoting the welfare of the people of SAARC region,” said CEO Dr Sunil Motiwal. “As we move forward, we also have an ambitious plan ahead of us to make SDF a robust regional financial institution for the strategic growth of this region.”

SDF is also working with partners to fund Covid-19 projects to mitigate the financial losses and severe socio-economic impact of the pandemic. “Several Covid-19 proposals from the Member States are under our consideration and would be approved by the SDF Board as per the existing SDF policies,” said the CEO.

“The increase in our engagements in South Asia reflects our strong commitment to improving the lives of the region’s people. But there are challenges too,” said the CEO. “Development changes in the region, trade barriers, income inequalities and environmental issues come in the way of SDF in accelerating economic growth, social progress and poverty alleviation.”

Preparing for change

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 12:02

We have successfully contained the spread of the novel coronavirus. Those who contracted the virus are recovering and our attention is now on preventing a community infection.

There are tremendous efforts put in place as we try to ensure the highest level of preparedness. Volunteers are trained, borders are guarded, and awareness is reaching the smallest community with community member too coming forward to participate. The number of people wanting to volunteer is overwhelmingly huge. We are on the right footing in our fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the health of the economy, the response is even better. Besides the fiscal and monetary measures, His Majesty The King has rolled out a Nu 30 billion economic stimulus plan. Thousands whose means of livelihood were affected have  access to  His Majesty The King’s relief Kidu. The benefits of interest waiver and loan deferment is starting to trickle down to the affected.

The country’s development partners and well-wishers are intervening with support at a crucial time. Yesterday, the World Bank granted an interest-free loan of USD 40 million to help the country improve its fiscal policies and boost employment opportunities. This is beside the separate USD 5M that the Bank approved to support the Covid-19 response.

On the same day, the European Union announced that they earmarked EUR 12M to support our efforts in tackling the pandemic and mitigating the socioeconomic impact. The areas of where the funds will flow are clear. They cover priority areas like increasing food-self sufficiency, managing natural resources, improving service delivery, trade and investment,  and even civil service organisations.

The pandemic has jolted us and we are suddenly feeling our vulnerability. Covid-19 has made us think and we are relooking at our development priorities.  The generous support comes at a time when our policy makers are in the middle of charting out a 21st century economic road map, reprioritising the 12th Plan activities and questioning ourselves of our approach to development.

A lot will change post Covid-19. Governments and experts are seeing the pandemic as an opportunity. It is already changing the way we work, communicate, travel and many more.

It is time not only for rethinking but being bold to usher in new changes. While at the policy level, we talk of ambitious and grand plans, it boils down to how we receive and implement the changes. Today our biggest problem is implementation.

Food self-sufficiency was prioritised decades ago, we are still talking about it. Today, Covid-19 revealed we can grow most of our own food with the right intervention.

We may be a small economy, but we have advantages in being a hub for many innovations and investments.  The peaceful atmosphere, political stability and the clean air, for instance, attracted big investors. Unfortunately, the bureaucratic tangles affected service delivery to the extent that investors are discouraged. This is dragging down our ranking on the ease of doing business.

We talk of our smallness as our advantage, but we fail to make most of it as we protect our territory and love working in silos. We might have the grandest plan, but excessive bureaucracy is hampering its implementation.

If we are to learn from Covid-19 pandemic, we have to first change our mindset and think of cutting through the bureaucratic red tape.

40th and 41st DeSuup accelerated training programmes announced

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 12:01

Staff Reporter

With over 9,000 Bhutanese registering for the 39th accelerated DeSuung integrated training programme recently, the DeSuung office announced for two more integrated programmes in the coming months.

According to a press release from the DeSuung office yesterday, the 40th and 41st accelerated training programmes were arranged to provide an opportunity to all eligible applicants.

“While the selection list for the 39th batch has been finalised, the remaining applications would be used to select eligible participants for the 40th and 41st batches,” stated the press release. This would be done on a ‘first-come-first-served basis’, using the time-stamp of the registrations.

For those applicants who have not submitted correct documents would be provided with an opportunity to do so. The time-stamp for these applicants would be recorded when the proper documents are submitted.

Those applicants who are not contacted, their applications should be considered complete and would be reviewed for one of the upcoming programmes.

The office has also reduced the application requirements to ensure maximum participation.

Medical certificates are not required anymore, and the training placements would be made at the discretion of the DeSuung office, based on the logistical efficiencies.

The office also announced that there would be no limit on the number of women participants for the training. “While students may be selected for the programme, adjustments may have to be made later, based on the government’s decision to reopen the schools.”

The press release stated, “As we continue to monitor the evolving situation of the Covid-19 pandemic closely, the DeSuung office may announce further accelerated training programmes, should the need arise.”

For the 40th DeSuung programme, the list would be announced following the deployment of the trainees of the 39th batch.

To be part of the programme, a candidate must be at least 20 years old and should have a grade X pass certificate. If an applicant had been under quarantine, there should be an adequate number of days from the end of quarantine as specified by the health ministry.

This is to ensure complete safety of other trainees, stated the press release.

An applicant would also have to produce their citizenship identity card, security clearance and no-objection certificate (NOC) for those employed.

Meanwhile, 5,606 male and 3,503 female rushed to register for the 2,016 slots for male and 504 slots for female in the 39th batch of the accelerated DeSuung integrated training programme on March 21.

My Covid-19 experience

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 11:58

I  took a look at the world. It was rotting away fast. Deaths and diseases are natural but the humanity was coming closer fast to something very settlingly dark.

Worries do not help. I continued going to school by subways. Then, one day, I started coughing. I got a fever too. I could not say whether it was Covid-19 attack or just a seasonal flu.

The season of hope had come but I was growing weaker by the day. Then shutdown began, one after another. I got more worried. I had never felt vacant like this before.  Something had really changed. I could feel it in my bones.

Covid-19 is really painful. It is agonising. It is maddening. All of a sudden one becomes weak and fatigued. It feels like one’s head is being ceaselessly beaten by a sledgehammer.

Once the Covid-19 strikes, it is serious if one does not get enough care. Appetite loss is a given and that can sink one into a dangerous depth.

I thought I was dying. Thinking—thinking overly—does not help in a situation like this.

The doctors came to me after a long wait to tell me that I had contracted Covid-19. His professional attitude was most irritating at that moment.

“You might have been infected with Covid-19,” he told me. The hospitals in the United States had run out of test kits, he said. “But I suggest you to stay home in isolation and not go around. You’ll be fine.”

I could neither laugh nor cry. I began losing sleep by the day.

But then I figured the importance of health advice. If one can keep inside, in isolation, there is a certain level of safety in the community. And if one gets good medical attention, Covid-19 can be handled well.

I got to hell and back, so to speak.

Being home is a special feeling I cannot express. Lockdown and travel bans were happening everywhere. I wanted to return home and am among the lucky few who could do so early. When I saw the landscapes from my country from the Drukair’s window, I found myself crying like a little baby.

The preparedness that I saw immediately after landing at Paro International Airport made me feel that I had made the right decision to return home. In my experience, no other nation was alert and prepared like Bhutan.

When the US and other countries are still struggling with whether to quarantine or not, Bhutan had already made her decision. Anyone flying into the country would be quarantined because Bhutan did not have, still does not have, a local Covid-19 positive case.

Right after arriving in Thimphu, officials from health ministry contacted me to tell me that everything was taken care of and that I should not worry about anything. My family members were informed too.

Where do you get this kind of care and support? Every individual in the country was going out of his or her way to help the government to tackle the pandemic. This gave me strength to fight the disease. I did my best as a citizen—followed health advisories and kept myself awake and active.

Why am I telling my story? Is it even important?

It is. I need to tell my story because I know it best. I am now clean I have tested negative. But I cannot celebrate this achievement alone, like this. I must educate the people and warn them of the imminent dangers.

What Covid-19 is and can do to us, we do not know clearly yet. We can only take care of ourselves and our community. Listen to health advice. This alone can ensure safety for all but we must act each individually for the common good. That is the only way we have to fight the disease.

Contributed by 

Chimi Y Tshogyal 

Fifth COVID-19  Patient

Former army chief Goongloen Lam Dorji passes away

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 11:57

Rinzin Wangchuk

The former Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the Royal Bhutan Army, Goongloen Gongma (Lt. General) Lam Dorji passed away yesterday morning at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH), Thimphu. He was 87.

Recipient of two Druk Thugsey medals, Druk Yugyel, and the Drakpoi Wangyal Medal from three Monarchs, Goongloen Lam Dorji served two monarchs in a career that spans more than four decades during which he had helped strengthen and mature the armed forces in Bhutan. 

Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji was born in Haa on October 23, 1933. He became a soldier when the Royal Bhutan Army was in its infancy. His career matured with the army, and he retired when the RBA had grown into a professional force of 10,000 strong personnel on October 30, 2005. He served 41 years as Chief Operations Officer and became the world’s longest serving army chief.

He passed out from the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun, India, at the end of 1954 and completed a post-training attachment with a range of Indian Army units and schools of instruction.

In March 1959, he received his first assignment to establish the RBA training centre in Wangduephodrang and transformed 80 rough but dedicated farmers into soldiers who served their nation with a salary of five Ngultrum a month and some basic rations. 

Having worn out many pairs of boots on the rough Bhutanese terrain, and having covered the length and breadth of a stark but beautiful countryside, with limited food and facilities, he left a force of trained and dependable soldiers who enjoy good housing, pay, and facilities and a high morale with very clear responsibility: to serve their King in the interest of their country.

In 1962, during the Indo-China war, he was posted to Lingmithang to oversee the training of a militia force drawn from Kurtoe, Bumthang, Mongar, and Pemagatshel. He was promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel on August 7, 1962, and served as the Commandant of training centre from 1963 to 1964.

On November 25, 1964, he was appointed as the Chief Operations Officer at the army headquarters in Thimphu by the late King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who promoted him as Colonel in 1970. His Majesty The Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck promoted him to the rank of Goongloen Wogma (Maj. General) in June 1981, and then as Goongloen Gongma on August 2, 1991.

Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji, like other members of his generation, helped pioneer the infrastructure development of Bhutan as His Majesty The Fourth King took over the helm in the early 1970s. 

As General Secretary of the National Sports Association of Bhutan, from 1974 to 1978, he worked directly under His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo to develop the Changlingmithang stadium and the Royal Thimphu Golf Club.

In 1979, under the command of His Majesty, the RBA built the 21-kilometre Laptsakha irrigation channel in Punakha, at a fraction of the estimated cost, enabling the resettlement of over 200 landless pensioners and bringing into cultivation over 1,200 acres of land. 

In 1981 he was appointed Chairman of the Government Welfare Project, now known as the Army Welfare Project (AWP), a project conceived and launched by His Majesty to generate funds for the welfare of servicemen and to provide employment for retired personnel. Aimed at being a sustainable commercial venture that proved to be an example to other government ventures and corporations, AWP now earns more than Nu 200 million a year.

In 1983 he was assigned command and control of the Royal Bhutan Police by His Majesty to reorganise and streamline the service conditions and improve the morale of the RBP.

During the uprising of 1990 the RBA safeguarded the security of the nation at a time when the southern dzongkhags saw unprecedented violence. Under the personal leadership of His Majesty The Fourth King, the RBA rose to the challenge of flushing out the Indian militants who were illegally camped on Bhutanese soil in 2003.

As the Chief Operations Officer, Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji developed a close rapport with 15 Chief of Army Staff of the Indian army. Generals and senior officers of the Indian army expressed their deep appreciation, over the years, for the outstanding contributions made by General Lam Dorji in enhancing the close friendship and cooperation between the Indian army and the Royal Bhutan Army, thereby contributing to the strengthening of Indo-Bhutan relations.

Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji was awarded the Druk Zhung Thugsay medal in July 1969, by His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. During the National Day celebrations in 1991 His Majesty The King awarded him the highest medal of the Royal Bhutan Army, the Druk Yugyel (DYG). In recognition of his long and dedicated service to the Tsawa-Sum he was awarded the Drakpoi Wangyal by His Majesty in 2001.

In 2010, His Majesty The King awarded him the Druk Thuksey Medal and said that Lam Dorji had already received the highest awards of the nation but was being recognised today as a symbolic gesture to present him to the youth as an example and to show that, ‘service to the nation shall never go forgotten.’

“An alumnus of the Indian Military Academy, Googloen Lam Dorji was part of the history of Bhutan,” Colonel Shankar, a retired Indian Army officer who had served in Bhutan said. He remembers Goongloen was a great ambassador of Indo-Bhutan friendship.

“Dasho Googloen as he was known, was full of compassion and always regaled us with stories about Indo-Bhutan relations which he had the privilege to witness from very close quarters,” Colonel Shanker said.

Youth unemployment rate drops to 11.9%

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 11:53

The overall unemployment rate decreases to 2.7% as per LFSR

Yangchen C Rinzin

Decrease in the youth population, youth preferring to continue higher education and youth staying out of the labour force are attributed as the “probable” reasons for the decrease in the youth unemployment rate.

The Labour Force Survey Report (LFS) 2019, the National Statistics Bureau (NSB) released yesterday recorded the youth unemployment rate at 11.9 percent in 2019. This is a drop by 3.8 percent from 15.7 recorded in 2018. The rate was 12.3 percent in 2017.

The LFS defines youth unemployment rate as the percentage of unemployed persons in the age group of 15-24 years to the labour force (also known as economically active population) in the same age group according to the report.

The report stated that in terms of absolute numbers, there was 3,626 youth who are without work, actively seeking and are available for work during the reference period, which is during the survey conducted in November and December 2019.

“The youth unemployment rate in urban areas is double than that of rural, which is 19.4 percent compared to 7.8 percent,” the report stated. “Paro with 21.9 percent has the highest youth unemployment rate, followed by Trongsa and Thimphu.”

Going by the report, female youth unemployment is higher than that of male with 13.8 percent against 9.7 percent.

NSB’s deputy chief statistical officer, Phuentsho Yuden said that although there was no further research carried to determine the reasons for the decrease in the youth unemployment, there are three probable reasons based on the data collected for the survey.

The deputy chief explained that one of the reasons was the decrease in the youth population as per the population projection of PHCB 2017. This led to a decline in youth labour force entering into the labour market.

“It was also found that majority of the students had continued to study in class XI, which means entry into higher secondary schools increased in 2019,” Phuentsho Yuden said. “This figure is also supported by an increase in the number of enrolment of students in class XI.”

The enrolment figure has increased to 11,750 class XI students in 2019 from 8,882 in 2018 (Annual Education Statistics, 2019).

She added that the data also shows that the students or trainees who were currently in school or institutes increased to 92.1 percent in 2019 from 87.9 percent in 2018.

“This means that the percentage of students and trainees who prefer to stay out of the labour force has increased in 2019 compared with 2018.”

Phuentsho Yuden said that the data also estimated a substantial decline in the number of unemployed youth who were seeking jobs. By qualification, those unemployed youths who completed class X declined to 11.5 percent in 2019 from 24.4 percent in 2018.

She added that the highest rate in Paro was because as per the data, the youth labour force in Paro is minimal.

According to the report, the overall unemployment rate has also decreased to 2.7 percent in 2019 compared with 3.4 percent in 2018. The lowest unemployment rate was in the year 2016 (2.1%).

In absolute number, there were a total of 8,698 persons seeking jobs during the reference period.

As per the International Labour Organization to be termed as unemployed, the person has to be aged 15 years and above who are without a job, who were seeking work in the last four weeks prior to the interview, and were available for work in the next two weeks.

A total of 9,012 sample households were selected from 20 dzongkhags, out of which about 3,420 households were in urban areas, and 5,592 households in rural areas. A total of 66 enumerators and 15 supervisors were engaged in the survey data collection.

Sarpang has the highest unemployment rate at 5.2 percent followed by Thimphu (5.0 percent).

“Majority of the respondents reasoned recently completed studies as a reason for being unemployed or lack of qualification and experience,” the report stated.

Over one-fifth (22.4%) of all unemployed (8,698) persons have been looking for work for two years and more.

Phuentsho Yuden added that when the youth unemployment decreases, it also has an impact on the overall unemployment rate, which is why the unemployment rate has reduced in 2019.

Meanwhile, clarifying rumours, Phuentsho Yuden said that the drop in unemployment rate was in no way related to Covid-19 pandemic, as the survey was conducted in November and completed on December 24 2019.

Former Goongloenn Lam Dorji passes away

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 15:10

The former Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the Royal Bhutan Army, Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji passed away this morning at the national referral hospital, Thimphu.

He was 87.

Popularly known as Dasho Goongloen, the former chief of the Bhutanese army served two monarchs in a career that expands more than four decades in the army.

Goongloen Gongma Lam Dorji was born in Haa on October 23, 1933. He became a soldier when the Royal Bhutan Army was in its infancy, his career matured with the army, and he retired when the RBA had grown into a professional force of 10,000 strong personnel in 2005. He passed out from the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun, India, at the end of 1954 and completed a post training attachment with a range of Indian Army units and schools of instruction.

In March 1959, he received his first assignment, to establish the RBA training centre in Wangduephodrang, and also represented the Armed Forces at the National Assembly.

In 1962, during the Indo-China war, he was posted to Lingmithang to oversee the training of a militia force drawn from Kurtoe, Bumthang, Mongar, and Pemagatshel.

He was promoted to the rank of Maktsi Wongma (Lt. Colonel) on August 7, 1962, and served as the Commandant, Training Centre, from 1963 to 1964.

On November 25, 1964, he was appointed as the Chief Operations Officer at the army headquarters in Thimphu by the late King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who promoted him as Maktsi (Full Colonel) in 1970.

His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck promoted him to the rank of Goongloen Wogma (Maj. General) in June 1981, and then as Goongloen Gongma (Lt. General) on August 2, 1991.

Drayang employees become parking fee collectors

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 12:20

Paid Nu 10,000 a month

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

For about a month, vehicle owners in Phuentsholing did not have to pay while parking their vehicles in the congested town.

With India under lockdown since March 25, parking fee collectors, mostly from across the border in Jaigaon, couldn’t enter the commercial town, giving car owners free access to parking spaces.

But parking fee collectors are back.

Neatly dressed in kira, donning caps, these parking fees collectors are former drayang employees, rendered jobless after the government ordered the closure of entertainment centres across the country as a prevention measure against the new coronavirus.

The Phuentsholing regional labour office has enrolled them for the job. A monthly salary of Nu 10,000 has been fixed. There are about 22 drayang workers and they said they like their new job.

Dorji Yuden, 23 said her new job was more respected by the people.

“People often ask how this new job was different from working in a drayang,” she said. “They praise us for taking up the job.”

A class seven dropout, Dorji Yuden, couldn’t continue her studies because of financial problems. Her mother, a divorcee, often became sick and Dorji Yuden decided to drop from school to help.

Another fee collector, Chozang Lhamo, 25, said the job is quite similar as it is about dealing with people. “We are thankful to the government for the job. It is better than being unemployed,” she said.

Chorten Zangmo, 30, who is collecting parking fees at Zangtogpelri said drayang job was easier. “We just have to wait for customers,” she said.

A heart patient, Chorten Zangmo said she is not fit for labour-intensive work. If the situation doesn’t improve, she said she is happy to continue the fee collection, as it doesn’t require heavy physical works.

The former entertainers said that although some motorists are rude, the verbal harassment was nothing compared to the harassment they faced from drunk customers while working in drayangs.

Collecting fee when the movement of vehicle is restricted has also irked motorists.

A resident, Namgay said while some fee collectors are rude, the fee has also become expensive. “Although I understand the intent of employing our affected people, charging Nu 50 an hour for parking is expensive at this time when everyone is facing difficulties,” he said.

Parking fee agency’s owner, Kipchu, said the rates have not been changed in any parking areas. “There are not many vehicles these days and we have to pay to the thromde the same amount,” he said.

Kipchu said he is worried if what is collected from the parking lots would be enough to pay his new employees. The agency has also written to the thromde requesting a deferral on the monthly payment.

On a day, a parking fee collector collects about Nu 700 to Nu 1,000. They are also allowed to buy lunch and snacks from their collection.

Meanwhile, the new development in the parking fee business reveled that most collectors are people from Jaigaon. 

Kipchu said the Bhutanese youths are not interested in teh job. The labour office is well aware of this situation, he added.

“I even advertised the post in the newspaper, local and social media forums, but not many came forward,” he said.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the parking agency had about 38 parking fee collectors, out of which 27 were from across the border and 11 were Bhutanese.

Today, 33, including the former drayang employees, are all Bhutanese.

Kipchu said that the drayang employees would be given the preference for the parking job if the situation returns to normal.

“They can work until 6pm to 7pm,” he said, adding they can then work in the drayangs.

Highlanders of Thimphu have adequate food stocks

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 12:18

Thinley Namgay 

Should the country enter a lockdown situation, in terms of the food reserve, Thimphu dzongkhag is prepared. 

According to a recent food assessment survey, of the eight gewogs under the dzongkhag, 870 households had food stocks that could last for a month, while the other 400 households had a two-month stock, and 308 households had enough stocks for three months. 

As per the dzongkhag’s capacity assessment of expected vegetable outcome (April, May, and June), it could produce 49,250kg of beans and 27,500kg of potatoes in June. In the next two months, the dzongkhag could produce 14,800kg of cauliflower and 38,100kg of cabbage. 

 The dzongkhag’s expected livestock production for April, May, and June are 384.305MT of milk, 14.522MT of butter, 10.1293MT of cheese, 10.12 million numbers of eggs and 7.48MT of pork. 

 Gewogs, located at a higher altitude, have sufficient stock to sustain if the Covid-19 situation becomes worse.

According to the dzongkhag response plan, at least 65 households in Lingzhi have enough food stocks to sustain for three months. 

Lingzhi Gup, Wangdi, said that the gewog is comfortable with the food reserve. “Every year, we buy food items from Thimphu and Paro at the beginning of the year. It is not due to the Covid-19 issue.”

He said that with rice, flour, oil, butter and cheese available, most people visit the town mainly to buy vegetables. “During summer we grow the vegetables in the villages.”  

As instructed by the government, people in villages are taking adequate measures in the wake of the Covid-19 issue in the country, the gup said. Gewog administration has been sensitising people on Covid-19. 

With over 500 people, Lingzhi has five chiwogs with 96 households. 

According to the response plan, Soe gewog has at least 10 households that have enough food stock to last for three months.   

Soe Gup, Kencho Dorji, said that the gewog could comfortably sustain for the next five to six month. “In the absence of road connectivity and heavy snowfall during winter, we start collecting food items at the beginning of the year.” 

However, he said that some households in the gewog might not be able to afford the food items if the situation continues for a longer duration. 

To help these groups of people, the gewog administration has written to the dzongkhag seeking support from the Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (FCBL). 

There are five chiwogs with 28 households in Soe. 

In Naro gewog, there are at least nine households that have food supplies to sustain for three months. There are 45 households with food stock to last for a month, and 20 households have supplies to last for two months. 

Naro Gup, Wangchuk, said that unlike Lingzhi and Soe gewogs, if the situation becomes complicated, it would affect his gewog. “Naro is near to the capital city, and most people here usually don’t stock up their supplies.”

Naro has five chiwogs and 310 people. 

Meanwhile, people with underlying health conditions are relatively low in the three highland communities according to the response plan. Of the 321 people with some health conditions in the dzongkhag, 11 are in Lingzhi. Soe and Naro have only three to four such cases.

The number of elderly (60 years and above) people is also less in Lingzhi, Soe and Naro with 50, 17 and 21 respectively. The three gewogs also have zero poverty rates as per their local government portal.

UNDP extends support in Covid-19 response

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 12:13

Staff Reporter

UNDP Bhutan office signed an agreement with the Gross National Happiness Commission committing its Covid-19 response support to the government.

The response package that has three main components of support will include support to the health ministry, National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), and Civil Society Organisations working with vulnerable populations, according to the UNDP press release.

The first component of the support package is ICT equipment support, which will be focused on the roll-out of Covid-19 emergency IT solutions developed by the information and communications ministry. “This will help the ministry to obtain real-time data to effectively monitor and rapidly respond to the pandemic,” the press release stated.

The second component is the procurement of essential safety personal protective equipment (PPE) which is expected to supplement the health ministry’s efforts to equip frontline health workers as well as waste handlers especially those who collect wastes from quarantine facilities.

The third component will focus on Covid-19 risk community and advocacy will focus to disseminate crucial information targeted at hard-to-reach and vulnerable population groups.

“The support to NCWC and allied CSOs is also centred around strengthening their support services for women and children under difficult circumstances during such pandemic,” the press release stated.

The Commission in the press releases stated that such support would immensely contribute towards preparedness both in health and in protecting vulnerable.

The Resident Representative of UNDP Bhutan, Azusa Kubota said that ICT during such crisis has given impetus to technological advancement and demonstrated the potential of technology in contact tracing and other areas.

“Real-time data is critical for targeted and rapid decision making. I commend the innovation, creativity and pro-activeness of the local innovators and the health ministry.”

There is no reason to panic

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 12:12

We do not know how long the Covid-19 pandemic will last. And that means, besides the current disruptions across the sectors, we have no way of knowing what challenges await us.

We can only prepare. We have done well so far; the glitches that we are faced with today are lessons. Post Covid-19, it is going to be a different world altogether. But that is future we are talking about. Tackling the problems of the present is more important. Sometimes though, unwittingly, we could get it dangerously wrong.

However the message went on to the people from the recent press conferences in the capital, the government is not “hoarding”. The government is stocking up essential items, food reserves among them. In fact, schools’ multipurpose halls are being used as reservoirs.

There is no reason to panic, far from it. The government has and will ensure that there are stocks of food and other essentials enough for six months at all times. If the people want to hoard, they can do so—the real message ought to have come across this way.

Bhutan will not face food shortage. Essential items will be made available. Our people will not have to deal with hunger and desperation. What is important is to not let the country and the government be crippled by the power and the dangerous capriciousness of the pandemic.

Bhutanese from abroad are coming back home. This will continue for sometime. A strong quarantine system is still our best weapon, if we can call it that.  We do not have a single local Covid-19 positive case still because our screening and quarantine systems have been very effective.

These systems must be strengthened. At the same time, we should study the changing dynamics of the disease very closely. Otherwise, we can fall short in our actions to prevent the pandemic from creating more disruptions in our society.

We are small and that is our advantage. What is reassuring is that a growing number of volunteers are coming forward to help the government in these difficult times. We haven’t lost it all. This goodness in us will see us through these dark times.

“I’ve a bigger responsibility to shoulder” 

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 12:11

Health minister shares a busy mother’s experience

Younten Tshedup

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo is always on her toes and most of the time, in sneakers.

With the new coronavirus keeping the minister busy since the outbreak in early January, Lyonpo Dechen has involved herself in every aspect of the response efforts the focal ministry has engaged in so far.

Although well aware and more prepared given the decades of experience in public health-related issues, the current situation have has taken a toll on the minister.

At a closer look, behind her smile at press conferences and other public gatherings, there is a sleep-deprived swollen pair of eyes. Lyonpo feels most comfortable in sneakers as she runs from one office to another for meetings.

Walking the extra mile has been tiring for the mother of a child. The health of the country, as of now is more important than her family.

“I have a very good support system at home, which is my family,” she said when Kuensel asked how she is balancing work and family life. “Although I have little time to spend with my son, I have a bigger responsibility to shoulder. My son understands the need of the situation and that is what matters the most.”

A recent picture with her son on her Facebook status which stated,  “With my current hectic late nights, blessed to have an evening with my sweetheart,” went viral with several hundreds “likes” and followers appreciating the minister for her sacrifices.

“I wonder if he misses me,” she said when asked if she regrets not spending time with her son. “Every parent wants their children to miss them but like most children, he is a bit preoccupied with his own things,” she said.

However, Lyonpo said that her son knows that she is fighting Covid-19. “You do feel a bit guilty as a mother because you are not able to be with him. I try to make the most of it when I get a little time to be with him, but it has been a challenge for me as a mother. I hope things will change for the better.”

Sharing a personal moment, Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said her son has been wanting to take her out for a dinner for some time now. “Because he has Nu 1,000, he was telling me he wants to take me out. I’m looking forward to that in one of these days.”

 

A request 

The health minister is preoccupied with preventing the spread of Covid-19.  Within seconds, she brings the attention to the virus from her family.

Lyonpo said that given the changing nature of the epidemic, people must keep an open mind and be adaptive to the changes in decisions and actions the government would be taking until the situation improves.

“People must recognise that this disease that we are fighting is changing its course as we speak,” she said. “We have to plan accordingly. If people follow as per the directives, this would be one of the biggest benefits to all of us.”

She said that all decisions made are carefully studied and recommended by a group of experts at the ministry. “I spend my midnights reviewing every publication that is there. If we have to be ahead of the epidemic, then we have to make our plans based on science and evidence. There is a change and change we must adopt.”

Lyonpo said, “My request to the public is to trust health officials. This ministry will never make a judgment that is not logically driven based on evidence.”

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