Coinciding with the United Nations Day celebration yesterday, Her Majesty the Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck was presented with an award in recognition for Her Majesty’s role as the Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) for the past two decades.
Dr Natalia Kanem, Under Secretary General and executive director of UNFPA presented the award.
Dr Kanem acknowledged the contributions by Her Majesty and for being a driving force behind UNFPA’s advocacy efforts in the country.
She also commended Her Majesty for being a strong role model for women and girls in Bhutan and travelling to remote villages of the country to raise awareness on issues ranging from safe motherhood to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.
“Her Majesty’s deep investment in the progress of Bhutan has made a huge difference to the work UNFPA is trying to achieve in this country – that is zero unmet need for family planning, zero preventable maternal deaths and zero instances of gender-based violence and harmful practices,” she said.
With Her Majesty at the helm of UNFPA’s advocacy efforts, Dr Kanem said that Bhutan would show the way to the rest of the world. “We truly value the partnership and we reaffirm our unwavering commitment to continue standing and walking side by side with the government of Bhutan until we reach the last mile and no one is left behind.”
Her Majesty became the Goodwill Ambassador of UNFPA in January 1999.
Since then, Her Majesty has led numerous advocacy programmes on HIV/AIDS, reproductive, sexual and mental health throughout the country.
Her Majesty also established a civil society organisation, Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women (RENEW) in 2004, to empower vulnerable women, especially victims and survivors of domestic violence.
The 74th anniversary of the United Nations was observed at the Tara Lhaden Zhingkham Lhakhang at Pangrizampa in Thimphu yesterday. On this day the UN Charter came into effect 74 years ago.
The day was observed with the theme ‘Greening the Blue’ focussing on climate change.
Dr Natalia Kanem said that the greatest threat facing humanity today is climate change. “I cannot think of a more appropriate place to celebrate this year’s UN Day than Bhutan, which had the foresight, long before the adoption of the 2030 Agenda to emphasize the interconnectedness of planet, people and prosperity for achieving sustainable development.”
Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the UN Day held both practical and symbolic values to the country.
“It’s an occasion to celebrate our membership to the United Nations, the fruitful and successful partnership, and to reiterate our commitment to the UN and its specialised agencies.”
Bhutan became the 128th member of the United Nations in 1971.
Lyonpo shared the discussions from the recent high-level delegation led by the Prime Minister to the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in New York last month.
“I am happy to inform that the discussions on current and emerging national and global issues were most substantive and fruitful.”
The minister added that Bhutan has now entered the preparatory phase and is expected to graduate from the category of Least Developed Countries (LDC) on 13 December 2023.
“The government welcomes the progression as this is a testament to the achievements made in its socio-economic development and the fruitful collaboration with its development partners,” he said. “The UN system has played a critical role in this journey and we will look forward to continuous partnership post-graduation.”
Drukair has added a new ATR 42-600 aircraft to its fleet.
The latest-generation turboprop aircraft, which will be used on the airline’s domestic and international routes, was chosen for its outstanding operational performance in challenging conditions.
The airline’s ATR serves small airports in the Himalayan mountains and links Bhutan with Kathmandu, Kolkata and Dhaka. Drukair’s ATR is equipped with the ClearVision system, which will provide pilots with outstanding vision and situational awareness. The aircraft features a 40-seat cabin.
Drukair Chief Executive Officer Tandi Wangchuk said: “We’ve been flying an ATR aircraft since 2011, its versatility and operational reliability have made it the ideal aircraft.”
ATR CEO, Stefano Bortoli said: “Delivering regional connectivity in the challenging operational conditions of Bhutan and its neighbouring countries takes a special aircraft and the ATR 42-600 is the perfect fit.”
Waste is a serious problem and it is growing. It is no longer an urban problem.
We have some of the most stringent environmental laws, but that has not helped us address the issue of mounting waste.
Our forests and mountains are no longer clean. Waste can be found even in the farthest and the most remote Bhutanese villages.
Recently, we ran a story of the people of Soe in Lingzhi, Thimphu, who are reportedly having to deal with the growing problem of waste. Not alone is the increasing number of tourists and visitors to blame; growing affluence and changing consumption patterns are also playing a significant part.
Empty cans, noodle wrappers, chocolate covers and PET bottles can be found everywhere, even in places like Lunana. Trekking trails are filled with such waste. The pilgrimage sites, which are located in some of the most untamed and pristine wildernesses, are also facing the problem of growing waste.
There is little the laws, rules, and regulation can do, on their own. What matters is the people behind these legal instruments. Our weakest link has been the implementation of legislation, plans, and programmes.
Managing waste in urban centres has gone out of hands. The story could be the same in rural Bhutan if we ignore the growing problem today.
We have witnessed rapid economic development in recent years. With it, there has been a corresponding rise in the production of waste in the country. Without timely and sensible intervention, the problem could become unmanageable.
Education and awareness is the best solution. For now at least, and our focus must shift. If our far-flung villages are able to control or reduce waste, the issue of growing waste in the urban areas can be taken care of, although not without challenges.
Quickly trodden must be the small fire so. We are talking about the window of opportunity and that means we must all try to equal ourselves to the occasion.
Cities overrun with waste points to the weakness of the thromdes and the villages grappling with the problem of increasing waste is indicative of poor local government administration. But waste is everyone’s problem, and so, reducing it a responsibility of each and every Bhutanese.
Tackling the issue of mounting waste is not intractable. We aren’t doing it right and with heart. That’s our problem. In fact, we are in the best position to succeed because we are small and the problems confronting us today are not overwhelming.
Some of the health facilities in the country were found to have radiation leakage, according to a preliminary finding of the radiation survey carried out in 2018.
The survey, carried out in all the health facilities in the country that provide radiology service, found that the leakage was from windows, console room, dark room, main door and primary wall.
MRI, CT Scan, Mammography, USG and X-ray are some of the radiology services that the health centres in the country currently provide.
A programme officer with the Department of Medical Services, Pema Yangzom, said that radiation leakage happened because most of the health facilities did not have a proper lead lining of the doors.
Ten health facilities—Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital, Deothang, Pemagatshel, Gedu, Paro, Samtse, Wangdicholing, Yebilaptse hospitals, Nganglam and Sipsoo BHU Is—were found without lead lining.
During the survey, the components assessed were the accessories, the X-ray rooms including the dark rooms, if they are as per the standard layout. It was also assessed if the primary walls were as per the requirement, if the human resources allocation was adequate, and caseload, among others.
About 58 percent of the 31 health facilities were found satisfactory; 13 were found not satisfactory.
It was found that only a few health facilities used the standard room layout for the X-ray room equipment. X-ray rooms in Deothang, Wangdicholing, Trongsa hospitals, and Nganglam and Dorokha BHU I were found to have inadequate room size.
In terms of the darkroom, nine health facilities did not fulfil the standard. “There was a presence of light and we could see radiation leakage in the darkroom,” she said.
One good practice was that all the health facilities have initiated putting radiation safety signs and indications.
However, it was noticed that the staff were not using PPE (personal protective equipment) when carrying out X-ray.
In terms of providing radiology services, the national referral hospital in Thimphu has the highest workload, followed by Phuentsholing hospital, and the regional referral hospitals in Gelephu and Mongar.
During the survey, ultrasonography (USG) requirements in terms of equipment, infrastructure, human resources and caseload were also assessed.
It was found that the ultrasound rooms were small and congested, the rooms did not have attached toilets and washbasins. There was no ventilation in the USG room, which the health officials claim are unhygienic to the patient and the staff.
The rooms did not have air conditioners. Pema Yangzom said that AC is a must in the ultrasound room to maintain the equipment temperature.
In 2015, Blood Safety and Diagnostic programme with the health ministry, in collaboration with Department of Radiology initiated radiation survey in all health facilities having radiology services to assess, detect and indicate the radiation leakage or hazard presence.
“It is also to ensure the safety of the health workers, patients and those working in the facility,” she said.
Radiation survey is carried out every two years.
Of the two impacts of radiation hazards to health, somatic damage happens when the whole body is exposed to radiation. Genetic damage causes genetic diseases due to radiation hazard.
Some of the health impacts due to radiation exposures include cancers, cataract and some kind of skin diseases. It can also be harmful to the fetus at various stages of pregnancies.
Some of the health facilities have very old X-ray machines which frequently breakdown and hampers the services. This is one of the issues highlighted.
The survey recommends that there is a need for the hospital or dzongkhag administration to prioritise radiation safety requirements in the respective hospital or BHU I.
During the planning of new X-ray infrastructure in the health facilities, it is recommended that the radiology programme should be consulted as they have standard X-ray room layout.
Additional staff requirement in hospitals or BHU Is with higher workload needs to be considered.
Except for the referral hospitals, she said that most of the health facilities had only one HR where the person had to handle both ultrasound and X-ray.
The country today has a total of 119 radiology staff, of which 48 are Radio-Sonographer and 39 X-ray Technician. “Even with this we are facing a severe shortage in our country,” she said.
Hospital and dzongkhag administration need to support computers and printers for the ultrasound unit to enable easy reporting and also support the requirements for the ultrasound service in the health facilities.
Currently, most of the ultrasound reports are prepared manually and it was found that in doing so, there is an issue of not being able to read the reports.
The SAARC Development Fund (SDF) held its 6th counterpart agencies meeting in Male, Maldives beginning October 23.
The three-day meeting will review and discuss issues to promote regional integration and economic cooperation among the member countries. The Counterpart Agencies comprises of members from the Ministry of Finance of eight SAARC Member States.
Some of the key points from the Member States during the meeting were potential projects for co-financing in the areas of energy, infrastructure such as roads and railways, agriculture, waste management, tourism and export of marine products. The participants also discussed SDF’s current challenges in terms of its loan pricing and lending requirements.
Currently, SDF is implementing 92 projects in all SAARC Member States. There are 87 projects (under 13 areas) across all SAARC Member States and five projects under the Economic and Infrastructure windows.
Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
Forty-six women in Mongar were trained to weave shopping bags, lunch boxes and pencil bags and dustbins out of plastic waste.
Calling it a ‘carving out of waste’, it used rice sacks, plastic wrappers and PET bottles. The initiative was expected to manage waste as well as boost income for rural women.
The participants, who were mostly school dropouts from classes V to XII, a graduate and few who never went to school, say they would benefit from the skills they gained once they reach back to their homes.
A participant, Sonam, said when she was asked to produce a creative art out of things at hand during one of the scout camps, she just cut the Pepsi bottle and made a pencil box. “I had no idea what to do,” she said. “If I had such training before, I would have woven a pencil bag from the waste then.” She is a member of a community scout.
The oldest participant, Chimmi Dema, 52, Baging in Dramitse, said a lot of wastes like rice sacks, Pepsi, cocacola and other juice bottles fill the village especially during annual rituals and funeral rites.
She said she would now make the best use of it. “A huge pile of wastes can be found in the village now and I would turn it into money.”
Mongar dzongkhag environment officer, Tshering Dekar, said each gewog has at least one to three participants and the rest are the enthusiastic town residents. “Because they are volunteer, they were engrossed throughout the programme.”
She said the initiative was taken after some rural women came forward and insisted following a similar training given to few selected women at Samdrupjongkhar by a civil society organisation, Samdrupjongkhar Initiative (SJI).
According to Tshering Dekar, the main target was to reduce wastes in rural communities as well as provide a source of income for unemployed youth and housewives.
Mongar dzongrab, Jamyang Cheda, insisted the participants to impart the vocational skills and knowledge they have gained to others in the villages.
Each participant was asked to bring at least an item of such type to be sold at the farm shop near the vegetable shed in Mongar town in a month, after fixing the price.
SJI sells a shopping bag at Nu 350, lunch box at Nu 250, and a pencil bag at Nu 150.
Meanwhile, Mongar dzongkhag organized the training with resource persons from SJI.
More than 20 monks and nuns gathered in the prayer hall of Pangrizampa School of Astrology, not to conduct prayers this time but to discuss how to become better advocates of sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR).
The participants from Mongar, Thimphu and Samdrupjongkhar received life skill education (LSE) from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and had been advocating their communities on sexual health in the past few years. They had an interactive session with the Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr Natalia Kanem yesterday.
Head of a nunnery in Mongar, Ani Wesel Wangmo shared how she could address challenges of domestic violence, menstrual stigma, and alcoholism in her community using the life skills she obtained from the training. “I could educate young nuns and girls in the villages on menstrual health and hygiene.”
However, Wesel Wangmo said that it was difficult to reach out to younger girls who were raised in a conservative society where talking about sex and reproduction remains a private matter.
“The nunnery involved both monks, nuns, and the community at large so that everyone accepts that menstruation is a natural process. We observed reduced incidence of such societal issues since then,” she said.
RENEW and UNFPA initiated LSE in 2011. The participants are taught 10 core life skills, such as creative, and critical thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, empathy, effective communication, interpersonal relationships, self-awareness, stress management, and coping with emotions.
Dzongkha lopen in one of the schools in Chukha, Phuntsho Namgyel, said that he could help more children using the skills he gained from LSE. He had been using the skills to integrate SRHR into the dharmic classes he conducted in different schools.
“Within six months, I helped around 900 children across the dzongkhag, who are mostly affected by domestic problems, and financial issues in the family.”
Phuntsho Namgyel also said that it is harmful to stigmatise any person because of their different sexual orientation. In Buddhism, he said, every human has the Buddha nature irrespective of their physical appearance.
Dr Natalie Kanem expressed her appreciation to the participants for guiding their communities through peace, love and compassion to talk about reproductive health and sexuality openly. “This is why UN looks to you to promote and defend the fundamental human rights of all people, particularly women, girls, and young people who have been victims of abuse and violence.”
The discussion saw how technology and social media could be explored to enhance such programmes and information available to different sections of the community.
About 500 nuns and monks have attended lessons on LSE so far.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Twenty-three automobile workshop owners in Toorsa, Phuentsholing, who were allotted new spaces are not ready to sign their lease agreement with the thromde yet.
They said it was difficult to start business considering the scenario at the new site.
With the help from the Automobile Sector Association of Bhutan (ASAB), the workshop owners had appealed to Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) for intervention to take up the issue with Phuentsholing Thromde.
Representatives from BCCI led by its president, Phub Zam, thromde officials, and the workshop owners on October 23 discussed the issue in Phuentsholing. They also inspected the site.
The new workshop space stretches from the confluence of Omchhu and Toorsa river until the sewerage tank near the Bhutan-India border. There is no wall or any other structure at the border and people from the other side can easily come over. River flows over some allotted plots.
Security of the business establishments was the primary concern of the workshop owners. In absence of a wall at the international boundary, workshop owners said there is a high risk of losing materials and equipment to thieves.
ASAB president, LB Gurung, said the lease rent was also exorbitant compared to other thromde areas. Phuentsholing thromde is charging Nu 42 per square feet (sqft) per annum, whereas it is Nu 4 and Nu 3 in other thromdes, he said.
“Thromde has asked a security deposit for 12 months,” he said, adding that the workshop owners were also asked to pay the amount immediately after they took over the new plots.
“In Gelephu, the security deposit is just for two months.”
Phuentsholing Thromde also has allowed 10 years of lease period, which workshop owners said was short compared to 30 years of lease time in some places. However, this is not the major problem, workshop owners told Kuensel.
The new site is also without proper road, electricity or water supply which, plot owners said, made it difficult to start working.
Meanwhile, the plot owners were asked to sign the lease agreement on October 15. They did not sign the agreement and sought help from BCCI.
Phuentsholing Thromde, on the other hand, has given the deadline to shift their existing workshops along the Toorsa by March 31, 2020. The plot owners want to remain until June 2020.
During the meeting, thromde officials have also said that a boundary wall would be constructed by June 2020. However, the lease amount was as per the rule and regulations and could not be changed.
Thromde officials also said that site development works required budget approval and it has to be included in the 12th plan. “Separate budget was not possible. Once the workshops start, development works would be considered eventually,” a thromde official said.
For now, Phuentsholing Thromde has agreed to take up the issue with relevant authorities.
BCCI secretary general Sangay Dorji said that thromde should understand and try to help.
“We need to dive deep on this issue,” he said, adding that the open space without proper boundary wall would be problematic.”
Sangay Dorji also said that local automobile workshops could do better to curb the massive flow of work across the border. Most Bhutanese go across the border for repair and other services.
“Government has plans to raise a boundary wall by June 2020. So why not let them start then?” he said.
“Plot owners would also be responsible after that.”
Sangay Dorji said thromde has agreed to take the matter to the land commission.
“We will also pursue the matter from our side,” he said. “It is co-existing in harmony; a win-win situation.”
His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen attended a tea ceremony hosted by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan.
Their Majesties are in Japan for the enthronement ceremony of the Emperor.
His Majesty The King granted an audiences to the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, and the former Prime Minister of Kuwait, Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah, yesterday.
Later in the evening, Their Majesties graced a banquet hosted by the Prime Minister of Japan.
Their Majesties attended the enthronement ceremony of the Emperor of Japan yesterday, and later attended a court banquet hosted by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan.His Majesty The King granted an Audience to the President of India Ram Nath Kovind yesterday
The Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) has clarified the new entrants of MagneSSa Bhutan and Oriens Bhutan must get their membership fees refunded if they have not received the products.
The official ban on operation of MagneSSa Bhutan and Oriens Bhutan schemes left their new entrants uncertain about getting the products delivered or money refunded. It takes weeks from the date of joining to get the products delivered from India.
Chief Programme Officer with OCP, Jigme Dorji, said that people should seek redressal if they feel that they were genuinely coerced into the business.
He said that the OCP will look into such complaints case by case and that all may not have joined due to coercion. “If someone has joined the scheme with the knowledge of risks, that’s a different case,” he said.
“If someone feels that he or she is genuinely forced with misleading information, we will deal with the case as per the rules and regulations,” Jigme Dorji said. He said that among the most affected would be recent entrants.
Rule 38(xiii) of Consumer Protection Rules and Regulations (CPRR) 2015 describes establishing, operating or promoting a pyramid promotional scheme where a consumer receives compensation that is derived primarily from the introduction of other consumers into the scheme rather than from the sale or consumption of products as an unfair trade practice.
The mode of business operation of MagneSSa Bhutan and Oriens Bhutan requires a person to register as a member by purchasing products worth Nu 38,500 and Nu 6,000 respectively. Each entrant should introduce new members to receive bonus and other incentives depending on the increase in the number of downline members.
An Oriens Bhutan member, expressing regrets for joining the pyramid business posted on social media saying that he paid the membership fee but was yet to receive the products. He asked what will happen to my money.
A member of MagneSSa Bhutan said that the decision from the OCP under the economic affairs ministry should have come early. He said that it was difficult to get the products delivered and that he did not get all the products that he was supposed to receive.
“I didn’t put any downline members. People are reluctant to join as the membership fee is too high,” he said.
In some cases, multiple members have joined the scheme from a single family. A member of MagneSSa said that she joined the scheme to help her daughter increase her downline membership.
“I didn’t look for new members,” she said, adding that she didn’t receive all the products she had paid for.
The OCP started investigation on whether the businesses were pyramid schemes in April this year. The office banned both schemes with immediate effect through a public notification on October 21 after its investigation found that both were pyramid schemes.
The OCP estimates that there are about 2,000 and 8,000 MagneSSa Bhutan and Oriens Bhutan members respectively.
Phub Dem | Laya
It is 8 am in Laya. The fog over the Royal Highland festival ground, Langothang had brought chill with it. It is a cold morning.
Soon clouds gathered bringing along it a light brief shower over Langothang, located 3,800 meters above sea level. But the cold didn’t deter the people from coming to the festival.The fastest woman in Laya, Choki
Laya has come alive once again with the fourth edition of the festival kicking off. Horses and yaks, men and women, children, visitors and officials made the remote village a busy place.
There are about 2,000 people at the festival.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering opened the festival.
Highlanders from Haa, Paro, Thimphu, Bumthang, Wangdue, Gasa, Trongsa, Trashigang and Trashiyangtse are the main participants at the festival. Many tents were pitched to display their products.
The RHF has become popular with more and more people visiting Laya during the festival. This has helped the highlanders. The festival has become a good source of income for many households in Laya.
Former Laya gup, Kinley Dorji said the festival, a gift from His Majesty The King, has benefited many highlanders.
He said that both the number of yaks and yak-rearing households declined after the cordycep collection was legalised. “Of the 300 households in Laya, today only 59 households or 20 percent of the households rear yaks,” said the former gup. “Cordycep is more lucrative.”
However, Phurba, 78, said that the highlanders’ sole dependence on cordycep is not sustainable because the harvest is declining every year. “The only hope we have is renting horses to the trekkers,” he said.
He said events, such as the highland festival was helpful in bringing in some income while connecting the highlanders with people from outside their villages. “We hardly go to cities. But we love to interact with people from there. I look forward to this festival every year and it’s a great opportunity.”
But with the road completion nearing the gewog, some highlanders are afraid that their business might be affected. A villager, Dorji Wangmo said that she was fine without a road connection to Laya. “With roads come modernisation and our way of living will change,” she said.
Former gup Kinley Dorji said the festival had been improving each year. He said that this year the number of both national and international visitors increased. “This has increased the income of every homestay owners and the villagers.”
Many villagers Kuensel talked to said that the festival would be a sustainable source of income while reviving the highland culture and traditions.
A homestay owner, Kinley said that every Layap benefited from the festival. “Some are hiring their horses, others rent their homes and a few who own yaks sell their produce,” he said.
Meanwhile, highlanders from other dzongkhags said that such events should be organised in their locality as well.
Besides traditional local dances, the famous Laya run, nyagoe competition among women highlanders, actors from the film industry made the festival lively.
The Gasa dzongdag, Rinzin Penjor, thanked the office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon for making the annual festival possible. He also thanked the agriculture ministry and the former Gasa dzongdag Dorji Dhradhul for initiating the programme.
What is the purpose of your visit to Bhutan?
I have always wanted to visit your beautiful country and I am so glad I finally got the chance to be here. I am very grateful for the invite that was extended to me by the Royal Government of Bhutan.Dr Natalia Kanem
UNFPA and Bhutan’s partnership goes back a long way. It is a relationship that has been built on a very solid foundation of mutual trust and a shared vision of progress for the people of this country. So, I am delighted and honoured to be here to be able to witness firsthand the enormous progress made since UNFPA started work here in the 1970s.
The International Conference on Population and Development [ICPD] is an important milestone for UNFPA this year, considering it is 25 years since the first conference. How is this conference different from other global conferences?
It is very unique and we are very excited about the Nairobi Summit that will be held in Nairobi, Kenya from November 12 – 14 to mark 25 years of that historic conference that was held in Cairo in 1994.
But let me emphasize this…ICPD is not just a milestone for us at UNFPA, it’s a milestone for all the 179 countries that were present in Cairo and adopted the Programme of Action that put women’s reproductive health and rights at the centre of national and global conversations. To inspire the action, the governments of Kenya and Denmark, and UNFPA, are convening the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, to mobilise the political will and financial commitments we urgently need to and fully implement the ICPD Programme of Action.
So, the Nairobi Summit will re-energise the global community, breathe new life into the ICPD agenda and take stock of the gains made since 1994. It will also be a springboard for governments and other organisations to announce voluntary, global commitments that are required to finish the ICPD agenda by 2030.
How would you assess Bhutan’s progress over the last 25 years and how has UNFPA contributed to that progress?
Bhutan has come a long way since 1994. Just look at the tremendous improvement in all the health indicators. The maternal mortality ratio has come down from 334 in 1994 to 89 in 2017, the use of contraceptives has gone up from about 19 percent to almost 66 percent now meaning that women and young couples can choose when and how many children to have. The presence of skilled attendants during births has gone up from about 11 percent in 1994 to more than 96 percent right now. Bhutan now also has a strong domestic violence prevention Act which helps pave the way for stronger action to combat gender-based violence. These are just some of the significant strides Bhutan has made in terms of ensuring a better world for women and girls, one in which they can exercise their rights and choices, and this tells you the story of how much has changed since 1994.
I would also like to commend and recognise the government’s vision and foresight in according priority to the empowerment of women and youth in all its Five-Year plans, a move that has been critical to the progress enjoyed by Bhutanese women, girls and boys, in the areas of sexual and reproductive health, gender equality and youth development. I would like to congratulate the government for taking steps to address child marriage and for rolling out a life skills education programme in all schools and including sexual and reproductive health education as part of the curriculum in the teacher training colleges.
Of course, there are gaps and challenges that remain within all these areas, as they do in all countries, and we must address these seriously; but the progress made so far is truly inspiring, and we encourage Bhutan to accelerate progress on the ICPD Programme of Action all the more in the years ahead.
UNFPA is Bhutan’s proud partner in the areas of sexual and reproductive health, life skills education to youth and adolescents, family planning interventions and prevention of gender-based violence.
Our Queen Mother is UNFPA’s goodwill ambassador. How has her involvement impacted the work done by UNFPA and the Royal Government of Bhutan?
Her Majesty’s role as UNFPA’s goodwill ambassador since 1999 has been the driving force behind our advocacy efforts in Bhutan. She is such a strong role model for women and girls here in Bhutan, and what’s important is her commitment to the citizens in this country. From far-flung villages to anywhere the unreached reside, she has travelled to so many remote areas in difficult terrain to speak to people on issues ranging from safe motherhood to information about sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. The fact that she has deeply invested in the progress of Bhutan has made a huge difference to the work UNFPA is trying to achieve in this country—that is zero unmet need for family planning, zero preventable maternal deaths and zero instances of gender-based violence and harmful practices. With her at the helm of our advocacy efforts, we are certain Bhutan will show the way to the rest of the world!
I am excited to finally have the opportunity to meet this strong and compassionate woman who has and continues to give so much to women and girls in Bhutan.
The total fertility rate in Bhutan has reduced drastically to well below the replacement level. Many would say that comes with its own set of problems. What are your views?
Yes, I know there are concerns about the decrease in the total fertility rate [TFR] in Bhutan. While replacement level fertility is 2.1, in Bhutan the TFR stands lower, at 1.7. I can understand why this can be a cause for worry here, but it is also important not to slacken in our efforts to continuously advocate for the rights of women to have choices through access to family planning methods, because there are other associated issues that continue to be worrying, such as high rates of teenage pregnancy and early marriage.
Access to contraceptives remains essential to empowering women, not just in Bhutan but across the world, to give a woman the right to make choices about her body, and to be able to decide, when, if and how many children she wants to have. Therefore, it is critical to ensure that family planning and contraceptive choices remain available and accessible to all women and girls of reproductive age.
As women and girls have access to education, it is inevitable that they will choose to have smaller families. However, if a country has support systems in place for child-rearing, such as generous maternity leave as well as paternity leave, flexible working schedules for new parents, affordable child-care services, free quality education and pediatric services, among others, it is possible that professional, educated women might choose to have more children.
Bhutan is not alone in being worried about lower fertility and, eventually, population ageing— these demographic shifts are being seen across Asia-Pacific and beyond. It is important to remember though that longevity is a triumph of development—people live longer because they are healthier. And lower fertility reflects women exercising their reproductive rights and choices as well as needing more support in being able to balance life and work: these go hand-in-hand. This is why gender equality truly lies at the heart of the scenario—and it is why gender equality and women’s empowerment underpin the ICPD Programme of Action. Ultimately, without achieving ICPD, we simply won’t achieve the Sustainable Development Goals—whose aim is to leave no one behind, in Bhutan and around the world.
A report has found that the presence of non-communicable diseases (NCD) in Soe and Lingzhi in Thimphu is alarmingly high. About 82 percent of respondents in Soe were pre-diabetic, for example.
The number may be small, going the population of Soe (less than 300), but the prevalence of NCDs in indeed very high. In Lingzhi, about 43 percent of people were diagnosed with hypertension. Some cases a very serious.
NCDs are often linked to prosperity and affluence. But there are many other factors that contribute NCDs such as environment, weather and climate, among others.
There is a need so to look deeper into the problems facing our people and the health system.
NCDs are already one of the major public health issues in the country today. In urban Bhutan, the problem now is overnutrition. At the same time, once a major problem in rural Bhutan, the lack of nutrition may no longer be the most significant contributor to NCDs.
NCDs are preventable. That’s what we know. Awareness programmes can be created in ways that can significantly reduce the incidences of NCDs. That’s what we have not done.
Affluence is a problem, yes, but it is not the lone factor that leads to dietary habits that are risky. Reckless consumerism also plays a significant role. Creativity and sustained effort now ought to be the focus when it comes to fighting NCDs.
Such studies are critically important for Bhutan because it can, and must, effectively and strategically guide policymakers and stakeholders to further promote the health and well-being of adolescents in Bhutan.
Strengthening the school parent/guardian education awareness programme to address the health and behavioural needs of the children is critically important. This means changing the mindset of our people, especially of the young.
But, today, the issue is not only about NCDs, but also sexually diseases that are on the rise, both in urban and rural parts of the country.
Not forgetting the progress that we have made over the years, we need to perk up. And, with demands of the changing times, our approach should be more innovative and practical.
In our hands today are only awareness programmes. But they have been effective in many other societies like ours.
Perhaps a little change in focus could lead to a significant behavioural change in our people. If the reach gives us not much hope, how seriously are we contemplating penetration?
Meaningful and practical solutions are what we need, especially when we are tackling with preventable health problems that threaten to burden the nation unnecessarily.
Choki Wangmo | Khoma
Empty cans, instant noodle wrappers, chocolate covers, PET bottles, discarded hiking boots and old clothes, among others lie in small pockets of pristine forest and clean water along the way to Singye Dzong.
Locals say the mounting waste from increased number of visitors to the sacred site in recent years is gradually invading the areas.
However, devotees Kuensel talked to said they are left with no option but to carry processed food in plastic packages to sustain through the journey.
“Raw vegetables and fruits are easily spoilt and uncomfortable to carry on the journey. For continuous strength, we need continuous supply of energy drinks and bars, which comes in plastic packages. The food items have longer shelf-life and are easily portable,” said 55-year old Tshering Lhamo who prepared for the journey for months.
“Most people dispose of the waste to travel light,” Tshering Lhamo added.
Bumdelling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS), within which the area falls, have placed few notification boards on fines if found littering but it proved futile.
Chief forestry officer of BWS, Karma Tempa said that every 9th day of the month is designated for cleaning at different places and the area is also scheduled for mass cleaning in the coming months. Although, his office dug several pits on the way, timely collection posed challenges due to long distance and unwillingness of the nearby communities.
In future, BWS plans to involve the communities in waste management. Karma Tempa is worried because villagers of Denkchung, Remoteng and Khomagang, which are along the way, are disinclined to the proposal.
“We consulted the people of these three villages but they showed no interest. Moreover, people in Remoteng migrate with their yaks. That might be the reason why they don’t want to participate,” Karma Tempa said.
BWS also creates awareness to pilgrims in large groups. Reaching out to individuals in small groups was difficult.
Khoma Gup, Sithar Tshering said that the gewog is collecting Nu 50 from each pilgrim during registration so that money can be used for cleaning along the route. It is a new initiative, and will be implemented beginning next month. “We will pay few people to collect waste along the route in November.”
As of this month, according to the estimates, about 1,500 pilgrims visited Singye Dzong. It is considered one of the blessed sites of Guru Padmasambhava in the country and gained popularity in the last few years due to improved infrastructures.
Singye Dzong falls within Khoma gewog in Lhuentse and takes more than a week to complete the journey from the nearest road point.
Rinchen Zangmo | Tsirang
Shitake mushroom cultivation has been successful in Tsirang with an increasing number of farmers taking up the business.
Although organic vegetables bring farmers a stable income, shitake farming ensures extra income all round the year for people.
A farmer, Tshering Lhamo, waters billets or logs from where the mushroom grows.
“These days we water billets every alternate day,” she said.
Normally, it takes about seven to eight months for mushrooms to grow after seed injection.
However, she said it mushroomed within five months in her farm. Humidity and temperature are kept in check manually.
She started growing shitake since last year. She has about 900 billets.
It cost her about Nu 470,000 to establish the business last year. The investment mainly included the construction of shed, buying seeds and logs.
She said that repaying loan was not a problem. She repays Nu 10,000 monthly.
Locally known as sokay shamu, she said the mushroom is usually sold at about Nu 500 a kilo. “Within a week, there are at least 12kg of mushroom. The production is less during winter but it doesn’t stop growing.”
Tshering Lhamo said agriculture officials helped in acquiring seeds and billets. “We are also looking into drying the mushroom. As soon as the mushroom is picked, we have to sell it within a few days as it gets spoiled.”
There are plans to look into establishing market in Thimphu, Wangdue and Gelephu. “There is not much market here.”
She said that after mushroom is picked, the billets are then soaked completely in water for about 24 hours.
Billets last about three to four years after which it has to be changed.
In Patshaling gewog, Pema Gyeltshen Sherpa, started shitake farming about five years ago after attending a month-long training on mushroom cultivation.
He said that it is one of the main cash crops and that farmers in the locality have started investing in growing shitake.
He said that seven additional households in the locality have expressed their interest in the business and have enlisted to get billets from nearby areas. “I also have cardamom as a cash crop but it is only harvested once a year. It is seasonal but it is not the case with shitake.”
He said that he sold the mushroom for about Nu 400 a kilo. He has about 1,000 billets.
At one point, he said he had 2,000 billets but he reduced it due to management difficulty.
“I do not keep track of the amount of money I make from the sale of mushroom. However, the business is profitable. It is better than involving in a piggery or poultry business,” Pema Gyeltshen Sherpa said.
It was only difficult when stacking billets and keeping humidity suitable, he said. “After the mushroom shed is established, it required less attention compared to other cash crops.”
Shah Bdr Gurung, 34, is another farmer, who started shitake farming about three years go. Not many were aware of the business prospect when he first started, he said. “The dzongkhag is blessed with a good climate which makes it suitable for mushroom farming. There are over nine households who will get into the shitake farming soon.”
In a month, at least about 20kg of mushroom is harvested.
“Investment in such business has only profited me. There is no loss. If we keep on doing the business, it might make us rich one day,” Shah Bdr Gurung said.
He said that in the beginning, the agriculture ministry helped with billets and the injection of seeds.
The only challenge according to him was acquiring the billets. “Market is not a problem for me as I can sell whatever is produced. However, with more people interested in farming, the demand for logs is increasing.”
Her Royal Highness Princess Dechen Yangzom Wangchuck awarded certificates to 18 spouses of armed forces personnel and two soldiers who attended the second month-long training to prepare Kuwaiti, international cuisine and signature desserts yesterday.
The training was conducted from September 23 until yesterday at the Vocational Skills Development Centre (VSDC) at Royal Bhutan Police headquarters in Thimphu.
Tshewang Dema, 31, is one among 18 participants, who attended the training.
She would return to Wing IX in Gelephu and impart the skills and knowledge to others.
“I also have a plan to explore entrepreneurial opportunity where I could cook and bake Kuwaiti food and other international dishes I learnt during the training,” she said. “This would help in sustaining my family.”
As part of Project HOPE activities, the spouse of Kuwait’s Chargé d’affaires to Bhutan, Abeer H.E.H Marafie, trained the participants in baking and cooking skills since last July.
A total of 33 spouses of armed force personnel from eight VSDC across the country and three armed force personnel from Royal Body Guard (RBG) have received the training so far.
Project HOPE was initiated by His Majesty The King and works for the welfare of the armed force personnel and their families mainly in the area of skills enhancement through training of the armed force spouses.
A RBG soldier, Sangay Kinley said he was happy to be part of the training for it has provided him lifelong skills.
Abeer H.E.H Marafie said that while this was the last training course for the year, she looks forward to conducting five such trainings next year.
Driven by her passion and interest in cooking, Abeer H.E.H Marafie is willing to teach trainees until the Charge d’affaires’ tenure in Bhutan ends.
New South Wales Fire and Rescue in Australia donated full structural uniforms and some bush firefighting uniforms to the Fire Service Division of the Royal Bhutan Police yesterday.
The uniform includes jackets, pants, boots, helmets and gloves.
Tarayana Dragons Club initiated the procurement of the uniforms and was helped by Australian firefighter Thomas Wilson and Julia Booth.
“My love and respect for the beautiful kingdom and the responsibility I have to help a fellow group of firefighters in the protection of their community has meant that I am very determined to see this project come to fruition and hopefully develop, ” said Thomas Wilson.
Tarayana Foundation aims to bring 1,000 firefighting uniforms to Bhutan.
Ugyen Academy FC trounced Druk Stars FC 9:3 in an evident display of attacking superiority at the Changlimithang Stadium on October 22.
Both the teams were hopeful of winning their 15th match of the tournament.
“In the earlier match in Punakha, the game ended with 2-2 because one of my players got red card. Changlimithang being our home ground, I am hoping to win today,” said DSFC’s president, Thinlay Wangdi.
UA captain Thinley Dorji said, “Our performance this year was not like what we’ve expected, however, we will give our best today.”
The visitors struck early. DSFC conceded an own goal within two minutes as UAFC pushed forward. DSFC re-organise themselves and fought back.
DSFC threatened to snatched an equaliser. The opportunity passed when in the 18th minute DSFC shot the ball from the spot straight at the goalie.
DSFC created numerous opportunities in the first half, but the attack did not bother UAFC goalie much as the shots went wide. UAFC defended well.
UAFC doubled their lead when Phurpa Tenzin with a header found the back of the net in the 36th minute. Chuma Dorji Lepcha netted the third.
Four minutes later, DSFC’s Samten Norbu scored the first goal for the team. DSFC refused to give in and hurled more shots to secure the second through Phurpa Tenzin.
It rained goals in the second half of the game as the UAFC strolled the game with another seven goals.
Then Jigme Tenzin’s goal for UAFC in 62nd minute doubled the lead and turned the table. A minute later, Dilip Mongar scored the fifth.
Galey Zangpo grabbed a consolation for DSFC from the spot in the 69th minute. The initial confidence and grit wore off and the DSFC players resigned to their fate.
UAFC went on to score another four goals to end the game, 9-3.
DSFC’s president, Thinlay Wangdi said, “We topped the Pepsi super league this year, but in the premier league, our rank is low despite a lot of effort from the players, because some teams are very strong.”
Paro FC leads the table with 39 points as of yesterday followed by Transport United FC with 32 points and Thimphu City FC in the third with 28 points.
All teams play 18 matches in the league.
Transport United FC will play High quality United FC today at 6pm at Changlimithang Stadium.
BOB Bhutan premier league ends next month.
His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen attended the enthronement ceremony of His Majesty Emperor Naruhito at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo yesterday.
The ceremony was attended by Royalty, other State Guests, and dignitaries from around 180 countries.
The enthronement ceremony, known in Japanese as Sokui no rei, follows ancient rituals.
His Majesty Emperor Naruhito is the 126th Emperor of Japan.
Following the ceremony, His Majesty The King granted an audience to the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe at the Akasaka State Guest House.
His Majesty also granted an audience to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi lived in Bhutan for a while in the 1970’s along with her husband, the late Michael Aris who was Royal Tutor to His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo.
In the evening, Their Majesties graced the Court Banquet hosted by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress at the Imperial Palace.
The Bhutan-India Small Development Project (SDP) Committee approved 214 new projects worth Nu 3,888.514 million (M) during the second batch of SDP committee meeting in Thimphu yesterday.
Some of the major projects approved in the second batch include construction of education, health and urban infrastructures, bridges, irrigation channels, farm roads and drinking water facilities, among others across the country.
A total of 359 projects worth Nu 5,737.114M have been approved under the first two batches of SDP.
The Government of India (GoI) has so far released Nu 572.28M of the total Nu 1,907.6M for 145 projects for the first phase of the SDP.
Officials said that proposals were prepared in consultation with the communities and relevant sectors based on needs and priority.
The Department of Bilateral Affairs’ director, Sonam Tobgay, said that the SDP was highly successful.
Implementation began in the 10th Plan.
“They are unique and special for us in many ways,” he said, adding that the projects positively impacted the lives of people at the grassroots level and contributed to alleviating rural poverty.
“People of Bhutan, especially those in the rural areas are deeply grateful to the Government of India for this significant contribution to their lives.”
Deputy Chief of Mission with the Embassy of India in Thimphu, R Gaurav Shresth, said that while the Bhutan-India friendship matured through various other collaborations, the SDP took the benefits of the friendship directly to the people.
The Bhutanese committee members during the meeting also proposed for some changes in the approved projects agreed in the first batch.
Officials proposed to change the location for the construction of permanent structures for Trongsubi farm road in Kurtoe gewog to Jagorbi in Maedtsho gewog, Lhuentse.
They also proposed to change the scope of construction of water reservoir and supply system at Phangyuel gewog in Wangdue to construction of an irrigation channel and supply system for the gewog.
The third proposal was to drop Kuenselphodrang local area plan (LAP) and replace it with Taba for the construction of sewer network.
GoI has committed to provide Nu 45 billion (B) as development assistance of which Nu 8.5B each will be for the SDP and programme grant in the 12th Plan. The remaining Nu 28B will be provided as project-tied assistance (PTA).
In the 11th Plan, GoI disbursed Nu 44.87B of the committed Nu 45B, making an overall achievement of 99.7 percent. This was excluding the Nu 5B fund for the economic stimulus plan, which was fully released.