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Picture story

Mon, 09/06/2021 - 11:07

Dangerous trend: Consumers breach Covid-19 protocols in a rush to grab refilled cylinders at the LPG depot in Motithang yesterday. Such scenes are becoming common in markets, playgrounds, and shops in Thimphu.

Focus point

Sat, 09/04/2021 - 14:01

Bhutanese travelling to Middle East again

Sat, 09/04/2021 - 14:00

Yangyel Lhaden  

Almost a year after the government spent millions to rescue women from Middle East countries, some have left for Bahrain and Qatar after obtaining  clearance from the National Covid-19 task force (NC19TF).

Although Kuensel could not obtain the exact number of people who left, it was learnt that they left after signing an undertaking letter.

According to a source, 10 women are scheduled to leave for Qatar on September 13. A woman has gathered her friends to work at her cousin’s restaurant in Qatar.  Two months ago a group of women moved to the Middle East. Some men have left for  Qatar this month privately.

However, the labour ministry that overlooks overseas employment has not allowed any Bhutanese to travel overseas for employment because of the pandemic.

An official working with an overseas agent questioned how Bhutanese were allowed to travel to the Middle East countries since agents were not permitted to send anyone.

He said that it is unclear how the NC19TF issued the clearance when labour ministry was not allowing them to operate. “Labour ministry has strictly informed overseas employment agents that we should not engage in sending Bhutanese overseas.”

The official said it is not fair when some people are travelling and they are not allowed to operate. “We have clients inquiring with us on daily basis.”

Although labour ministry officials refused to comment, sources who are aware about the issue said it was illegal for Bhutanese to travel overseas for employment if they did not route through labour ministry or agencies authorised by the ministry.

A source said that those who travelled with registered agencies have safety protocols and the ministry verified with companies abroad for salary, working environment, and living conditions, before sending them. “The safety of individuals is not guaranteed if they go privately without the consent of the ministry.”

An official with an overseas agent said Bhutanese travelling at their own risk privately could result in human trafficking. “Human trafficking case in Middle East was among those individuals who travelled on their own by contacting the company directly or through friends.”

She said availing visa for other Middle East countries other than Kuwait was easy which was why many Bhutanese were going to Qatar and Bahrain. “There is high demand for workers in the Middle East right now. Companies tell us they would give us commission if we could send Bhutanese.”

According to Regulation of Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agents 2011, no person shall recruit and deploy a Bhutanese citizen to work overseas without a valid license issued under this Regulation. “Any person guilty of an offence under section 2.14 shall be charged for human trafficking under Penal Code of Bhutan, 2004.”

An official with an overseas agent said she inquired about the 10 women to an official with labour ministry, and found the ministry did not approve it. “They managed to get travel clearance from NC19TF.”

Kuensel learnt that most people travelling to the Middle East were former employees who had contract with the company and since they had no money to pay to the agencies they were contacting directly.

Sources claimed the member secretary with NC19TF issued approval after Department of Disaster Management studied and authenticated the documents and foreign ministry studied the Covid-19 situation in that country. Department of Disaster Management under chairmanship of NC19TF Secretariat is in charge of verifying documents and issuing travel clearance.

Kuensel tried to contact Department of Disaster Management but officials did not comment.

Edited by Tashi Dema

Business fronting is a criminal offence

Sat, 09/04/2021 - 13:59

Phub Dem | Paro

All business fronting cases will be treated as criminal offences and penalised beginning January next year.

The Parliament classified the Act of business fronting as a criminal offence in the Penal Code (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2021(PCAAB) earlier this year. Section 284 (G) of the Act defines fronting as leasing or subleasing, hiring or otherwise permitting another person to use or operate one’s license unless otherwise permitted by the law or policies.

If fronting occurs between Bhutanese nationals, the defendants will be charged for violation of the first conviction and petty misdemeanour and cancellation of license for the second conviction.

It would be a felony of the fourth degree or value-based sentencing, whichever is higher, if the fronting takes place between Bhutanese and a non-Bhutanese and between non-Bhutanese license holders.

The economic affairs ministry issued a notification on fronting in July this year to caution the businesses to refrain from engaging in fronting and asked for immediate termination of such arrangements.

The regional trade offices in the country are creating awareness in dzongkhags for the smooth implementation of the Act.

Thimphu regional office began the programme for the eight western dzongkhags from Paro on September 1.

Fifty selected business firms attended the programme. The business owners were briefed on new laws on fronting and ethical business practices, including impacts of fronting on the growth of the business sector and in preventing business people from facing criminal charges.

According to Department of Trade’s regional director,  Sangay Phuntsho, the programme sought cooperation and discouraged people from engaging in illegal activities.

Fronting is prevalent even to these days. Some business owners at the meeting said that many had been doing business on rental and leased licenses for years. A few were skeptical about their stocks and the economic condition of those people who had been operating business on hired license.

Sangay Phuntsho said that there were around four months before the new law came into effect and those operating on leased licenses could apply for a new one.

Citing examples about the inconveniences caused during the implementation of the tobacco Act in the past, trade officers said that ignorance of the law was not accepted. “Educating the public on new laws is essential.”

Almost all the business owners were of the view that restriction on bar licenses was the main reason fronting was still thriving. They said that if the government could lift the restriction, those who cannot operate the business will never avail of the permit.

Officials said that their concerns were recorded and would be shared with the ministry for implementation and necessary amendments.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Oversubscribed RICBL shares raise Nu 1.14B

Sat, 09/04/2021 - 13:59

Thukten Zangpo

The Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited (RICBL) shares saw 19 percent oversubscription at the discovered price of Nu 73.05 a share, according to the Royal Securities Exchange of Bhutan Limited (RSEBL).

This means that of the 5, 273 investors, only 2,493 who bid above Nu 73.05 a share will get the shares.

According to RSEBL’s chief executive officer, Dorji Phuntsho, they received 18, 543, 944 shares from the auctioned 15.64 million worth shares.

The shares traded at a floor price of Nu 72.05 and the maximum bid price of Nu 85 from August 20 till September 2.

The allotment was done yesterday for successful bidders on an equity basis and time priority.

Dorji Phuntsho said the final settlement of collection from the brokers and refund to the ineligible bidders would be done before September 10 this year. “There would not be any deduction from the bidders.”

He explained that refunding becomes an issue when people buy share from someone else’s bank account. “This delays the refund process as bank rejects because of mismatch in bank account holder’s name and buyers.”

He said that there would not be an issue of refund when people bid from the RSEBL online platform and brokers since all details will be available online and brokers refund themselves.

Edited by Tashi Dema

DYS launches online course for Y-PEER Bhutan 

Sat, 09/04/2021 - 13:58

Chhimi Dema

The Department of Youth and Sports (DYS) launched an online course for a youth-led initiative focusing on educating and advocating youth on adolescent reproductive and sexual health called Youth Peer Education Network (Y-PEER).

As part of the course, three manuals on sensitisation, orientation and national training of trainers were launched. The manuals are categorised into three levels.

Y-PEER Bhutan’s in-charge, Rangjung Dorji, said Y-PEER Bhutan, with support from DYS and UNFPA, developed the course.

There are more than 3,000 Y-PEER members in the country today in 19 colleges and institutes.

Y-PEER is a global youth movement established in more than 90 countries and was created by UNFPA International. In Bhutan, it was established in 2012 to promote youth participation and development under the purview of DYS.

Rangjung Dorji said that the e-course covers topics of sexual health and rights (SHRS) and includes skills development avenues in public speaking, communication and team building. “It also highlights various issues that affect young people.”

Interested youth can participate in the e-course that would be held on online platforms like Zoom. Two pilot projects were carried out. The third e-course programme will be conducted this month.

Fourteen core members of the network developed the manuals that will serve as a standardised curriculum for all the 19 networks in the country.

Rangjung Dorji said after completion of the course, an individual would be well equipped to help a peer in issues related to SHRS and other youth-related issues.

He said that since it was more likely for youth to listen to youth than others, there were potential to make a difference in a peer’s life.

Being a Y-PEER member, Rangjung said, he could explore and get information on various topics that the Y-PEER focuses and advocates on. “The support that we require is trust in the youth so that we can be the change that we want to see in the world.”

Y-PEER Bhutan, during their advocacies, covers topics on vulnerable youth, sustainable development goals, HIV and AIDs, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, addiction and peer pressure.

Y-PEER also designs and conducts sessions on LGBTQA+, gender sensitivity, teamwork, volunteerism, civic engagement, stigma and discrimination.

A recent graduate and a member of Y-PEER, Ayeshwini Lama, said that she has developed skills and went through a lot of personality development as a member of Y-PEER.

“I enhanced my leadership skills by being able to train and educate other young people on issues of SRHR,” she said.

Ayeshwini co-founded two mental health and sharing positivity campaigns to provide mental health support in times of Covid-19. “The activities helped me grow and learn more. Y-PEER provides a greater platform not to just learn how to be a leader but become a leader.”

Edited by Tashi Dema

Of beyond reasonable doubt – standard of proof

Sat, 09/04/2021 - 13:58

The concept of beyond reasonable is known to everyone yet this remains uncertain. It differs from one court to another and from one judge to another.  This legal maxim imposes a duty on the prosecutor to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt in respect of “assessing the evidence in criminal cases.”

Section 96.2 of Civil and Criminal Procedure Code 2001 states: “finding of guilt against one or more of the parties can only be given when the prosecution to the satisfaction of the Court has established a proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

As a result, in every conviction in Bhutan, the judgment states that the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt as per Section 96.2 of the CCPC and as per the evidence submitted by the prosecution. However, in many instances, the decisions are either vague or lack how the prosecution has proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Our courts generally do not specify how each of the elements of the offence is proved and why the court considers such as beyond reasonable doubt. Since “beyond a reasonable doubt” is determined by the court, as the law states: “full satisfaction of the court”, courts must elaborate in each case how the prosecution was able to prove beyond doubt.

It is often said that the reasonable-doubt standard plays a vital role in protecting the rights of the accused in a criminal case. It is a “prime instrument for reducing the risk of convictions resting on factual error. The standard provides concrete substance for the presumption of innocence—that bedrock axiomatic and elementary principle whose enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.”

Article 7 Section 16 of our Constitution recognises that an accused is presumed “innocent until proven guilty in accordance with the law.” The reasonable doubt is a “doubt based on reason or reasonable in view of all the evidence”, which is consistent with the defendant’s innocence.” All the “presumptions of law independent of evidence are in favour of innocence, and every person is presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty. If upon such proof there is reasonable doubt remaining, the accused is “entitled to the benefit of it by an acquittal.”

Indian Supreme Court said that the court must provide the benefit of every doubt to the accused.  The accused may also show based on the material a preponderance of probability in favour of his plea. If the accused succeeds in creating a reasonable doubt or shows a preponderance of probability in favour of his plea, “the obligation of accused gets  discharged, entitled to acquittal.” 

Lord Denning said that beyond reasonable doubt “need not reach certainty but it must reach a high degree of probability. Proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond the shadow of a doubt. The law would fail to protect the community if it admitted fanciful possibilities to deflect the course of justice. If the evidence is so strong against a man as to leave only a remote possibility in his favour which can be dismissed with the sentence, of course, it is possible but not in the least probable the case is proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Therefore, courts must interpret this principle cautiously as it depends on respective judges. The murkier the application of this principle, the more people will lose or cast doubt on judicial decisions.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

Four specialists identified for Bumthang

Sat, 09/04/2021 - 13:57

Deployment stalled because of lack of facility    

Younten Tshedup 

The government has identified all the four specialists (medical doctors) who would be deployed at Wangdicholing hospital in Bumthang, according to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.

The deployment of four specialists was one of the main pledges made by the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) government during the Chhoekhor-Tang bye-elections in November last year, where the DNT candidate Dawa won the elections.

However, the identified specialists — a gynaecologist, a paediatrician, an anaesthesiologist, and a surgeon — are yet to be deployed to the hospital as the existing facility requires some upgradation including the installation of equipment inside the operation theatre.

Lyonchhen said that the ministry was in the process of procuring the required equipment. “As soon as the equipment are installed, the doctors will be deployed.”

He said that the gynaecologist could be deployed anytime now as he or she could conduct cervical cancer treatments including pap smear coverage in the nearby dzongkhags of Zhemgang and Trongsa.

However, many are still questioning if Bumthang requires four specialist doctors given its population size, proximity to the nearest referral point, presence of other institutions, poverty rate, and number of female population between 15 and 49 years among others.

According to the population and housing census of Bhutan 2017, with 17,820 (8,428 female) people, Bumthang has a relatively low population density as compared to other dzongkhags. The poverty rate in Bumthang as per the poverty analysis report 2017 is 2.1 compared to 14.0 for neighbouring Trongsa.

Bumthang was also not identified as one of the emergency obstetric, neonatal, essential surgical and trauma centres by the health ministry.

The identification of these centres was done some three decades ago by the ministry. Today, of the eight centres identified in the late 1980s, only four are functional with at least one specialist.

Trongsa was one of the eight identified centres. The centre was identified to cater services to the central parts of the country including Zhemgang, Bumthang and Trongsa.

If the hospital is established in Bumthang, people of Zhemgang would have to travel almost double the distance.

The caseload (patient attendance), however, at the Wangdicholing hospital is relatively higher than some of its neighbouring dzongkhags. The hospital saw close to 30,000 patients in last year with an average of 82 plus patients every day.

Since 2017, health facilities in Bumthang, including all the basic health units, have attended to 215,304 patients (new and old cases). During the same period, health facilities in Trongsa saw 185,853 patients and 302,406 people visited health facilities in Zhemgang.

But all these numbers do not correspond to using specialist services. Majority of them, according to health officials, are usually general cases.

Health officials say that deploying four specialists at the existing 20-bed Wangdicholing hospital would not be practical as this would mean that hospital would require an expansion to house the specialists including new facilities for the specialists to work, which includes a separate medical, paediatric and gynae wards including additional operation theatres which would be a prerequisite for the new set of specialists.

According to sources, the government was considering expansion of the existing hospital with provision of building new infrastructure. However, officials from the health ministry said that there was no such discussion taken, for now.

Wangdicholing hospital currently has two general duty medical officers.

Meanwhile, expecting mothers from Samdrupjongkhar have to travel to Trashigang, Mongar and Gelephu hospitals as there is no gynaecologist in Samdrupjongkhar and Dewathang hospitals. The gynaecologist in Dewathang was transferred three years ago and the hospital did not receive a replacement.

Many expecting mothers from Samdrupjongkhar told Kuensel that besides the risk of travelling long distances, they also have to stay in quarantine to travel to low-risk areas to avail basic services and for institutional delivery.

Edited by Tashi Dema

Local leaders want thromde to take care of religious monuments

Sat, 09/04/2021 - 13:57

Thinley Namgay

Without proper boundary demarcation between Thimphu thromde and three gewogs of Chang, Kawang and Dagala, gewogs take care of religious monuments like lhakhangs, goendays, and choetens in the thromde.

This has frustrated the gewog leaders in Thimphu.

Chang Gup Ugyen raised the issue in the recent dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) session.

He said the area between Changzamtok to Olarongchu falls under thromde since 2000 but Chang gewog has to take of the religious monuments in the area.

There are 37 choetens and more than 100 lhakhangs in the area.

“Thromde should take care of the lhakhangs and choetens. I am concerned about vandalism,” gup Ugyen said.

He claimed the issue was deliberated in the past DT sessions, but nothing concrete came out of it. “If we don’t resolve this problem, future gewog leaders will also face consequences.”

A representative from the thromde said they don’t have a cultural office to look after the religious monuments. “But we do have a plan to open a cultural office.”

He said thromde will demarcate the boundaries soon.

Thimphu Dzongdag Dorji Tshering said a proper boundary is needed to respond to disasters like forest fires.

He also said thromde should take care of the lhakhangs and choetens within its boundary. “It is unreasonable for gewogs to look after religious monuments under thromde.”

According to the dzongdag, ownership of choetens under thromde should be clear. “Some are government choetens and some belong to private individuals and community.”

Edited by Tashi Dema

Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework…

Sat, 09/04/2021 - 13:56

The Biodiversity Bill of Bhutan, which is at present under consideration, will need to take up a holistic and pragmatic approach when it comes to the preservation, promotion, and effective use of plant genetic resources. Plant genetic diversity is identified as one of the key milestones under the UN Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework with targets and actions enumerated for 2030 and 2050.

Seed is the basic unit of plant genetic information and it is only natural to focus the discussion on seed and to bring out the nuances surrounding practices on seed preservation and usage, and regulatory systems that are designed to address emerging agricultural-led challenges.

In agricultural productivity, the introduction of new plant varieties that are socially and economically vital is possible only upon a good collection and circulation of seeds for planting. The conceptualisation of seeds as the carrier of genetic information is reshaping the understanding and application of legal, financial, scientific, and technological measures for the future preservation of seeds. Farmers themselves understand the practical importance of taking care of any healthy and prolific crops in the fields, which will give them good quality seeds. Seeds of ancestral and landrace crop varieties provide the basis to produce future new cultivars in many agricultural societies. Accordingly, to stress the importance of robust seed collection centres is an understatement, not least that the crop with uniform genetic diversity is a subject of genetic erosion should a natural disaster or large-scale pest infestation will require to revert to landrace crop varieties.

The Biodiversity Bill will need to gauge the community seed banking and storage­—collection of valuable genetic information on plants—as leverage for future biodiversity resources.

Community seed collection centres will have real and practical advantages. However, it leads me to examine alongside the dangers associated with the storage of agriculturally useful knowledge in an accessible format. The risk of placing seed, its knowledge on utilisation more readily along the agricultural value chain is not an excuse to pre-empt the larger agricultural disasters that can happen at any time. Nevertheless, it has been shown elsewhere that exposure to agricultural knowledge on one side and compressive monitoring of seed collection and storage centres on the other, will legitimise the access and use of seeds in ways that promote practical agricultural productivity and biodiversity conservation at the same time. Legal and institutional measures hinge on regular monitoring and evaluation of operational procedures that establish community seed centres.

Perhaps the biggest contribution to such a discourse is characteristic of the Bhutanese community organisational values that seek to embrace systems and practices that benefit communities.

New varietal innovations in crops that correspond to socioeconomic and environmental shocks are outcomes of plant breeding works carried out by farmers and professional breeders. One recent positive trend sweeping Bhutan is the role of youth taking up agricultural farming given the highly competitive job market in urban centres. The Biodiversity Bill and associated regulatory systems that will get created present greater opportunities to tape this emerging labour market in agricultural production as well as contribution to the preservation of crop genetic diversity. On one hand, rural farmers are mainly specialised in the cultivation of ancestral and landrace varieties because it requires the use of intricate traditional knowledge systems and application of age-old agricultural skills. On the other hand, socioeconomic and cultural changes induce youth as a modern icon of agricultural production of new crop varieties on scales that parallel emerging food consumption needs. Both farmers and new labour force like youth will continue to inform legal and policy discourses on biodiversity issues. 

In the end, seeds as the driver of agricultural productivity and as the basic unit of plant germplasm, aptly support the post-2020 Biodiversity framework vision of Living in Harmony with Nature. The genetic diversity, understandably, cannot be left upon the miracles of Mother Nature alone. As requirements for food consumption increase, there is concomitant transformations in the overall landscape of food nutritional demands. Access and Benefit-Sharing of plant genetic resources for agricultural productivity and biodiversity conservation will need to be understood in terms of the requirements of modern agricultural imperatives. At the same time, community seed centres, as the collection point of genetic information holding crucial traditional knowledge systems, must also underpin the legal regulation of biodiversity and conservation efforts.

Contributed by

Kencho Peldon

Brisbane, Australia

Solar Plant- Benefits, and not in my backyard?

Sat, 09/04/2021 - 13:56

There are two chief reasons I wanted to write this perspective on Solar Power in Bhutan and the example of Shingkhar Solar Park that was recently covered in various media- social to the mainstream.

One, it looks like many fellow Bhutanese are of the opinion that solar parks are only applicable for Desserts, best on rooftop and that we have abundant reliable hydropower forever! Following are few key benefits of mega solar power parks;

In recent years we have seen how long it takes for gigantic hydropower plants of Punatsangchhu and Kholonghhu to take to materialize, how risky they are with one machine breaking down at Mangdechhu costing 203 millions for repair. Think of a 30MW solar park! Within minimum moving part, there is a very low probability of any major breakdown and the plant will easily power the central districts of Bhutan at ease. The presence of existing hydropower projects would help balance the load at night and off-hours. Most importantly, Solar projects can be developed within a shorter span of time. 

The global costs of energy production from solar are decreasing and becoming highly competitive even compared to hydropower projects. The per-unit costs of energy will be cheaper or the same as hydropower.

Study, development, operation and maintenance of smaller renewable systems such as this solar park would also require more manpower spread in different districts which would employ more job seekers. Talk about employment generation in Bhutan!

An increase in domestic industries, Electric Vehicles, Internet of Things, digital services etc is pushing power demand which is necessitating the need for Bhutan to increase its power supply. If we don’t put in projects like this fast, Bhutan will face winter energy shortage soon as rivers run dry during the lean months, while our energy demand surges.

Clean energy from renewable sources such as solar would also help Bhutan to stay on top of our Climate pledge to remain carbon neutral besides contributing towards diversification of energy resources for enhancing our energy security. 

It would even be possible for us to earn both from sale of electricity and carbon credits by offsetting coal-based power generation in India through carbon trading. Please note that hydropower sale to India was the only sector unaffected by Covid-19 Pandemic.

Abundance of renewable energy in rural areas, then becoming generators, would also encourage in development of secondary production such as hydrogen fuels, green ammonia in Bhutan which are currently untapped. Availability of reliable and sustainable energy in rural communities will trigger more economic activities in & around such communities thereby curtailing rural-urban migration.

No, not just in deserts, Solar parks are equally good in the high altitude countries such as Bhutan and we are indeed blessed to have good solar resources. 

More than anything, Solar panels are not ugly, not harmful to the environment, not noisy, and definitely not as toxic compared to our diesel-burning or other sources of energy. There is no other greater source of energy than solar! 

Various government and international reviewed studies have listed it as one of the best sites in the country- good solar irradiance, no forest coverage, not in a park and on State land. As a government-initiated project, it is our view that such a noble and breakthrough project needs the support of all Bhutanese. I am sure that we cannot deny that there are villages and Nyes (socio-culturally important sites) in the vicinity. In that case, name a village in Bhutan that does not have Nye or Lhakhang? All villages from Phuentsholing to Laya to Bumthang have a Nye or Chorten or Dzong or Crematorium in the neighbourhood. Imagine if the people of Paro Chang did not sacrifice their ancestral land for the Paro airport! Or people of Mangde for Mangdechhu or Wangdue for Punatsangchhu! We cannot have any government-initiated project for a national cause unless it is for the particular village (such as road or power for the particular village only). This is a true application of “Not in my backyard.” 

While the sentiments of the people of Shingkhar are understandable, someone blaming a “Solar park” for socio-cultural and environmental damage is unwarranted! There is no greener form of energy generation than solar and no tourist will run away from a solar park! It is rather a sign of green development, environmental conservation and a great climate change mitigation measure! It is something to be proud of and be economically self-reliant!

Families in Thimphu Chang lost private land for offices in Thimphu, or the development enclave in Hejo- they justified and fought, but they accepted that the plans are for national good! Studies have been done with millions of ngultrums and should not be shelved for the mere complaint of few individuals and their perceived socio-cultural values. If the MoEA does give up this project after coming this far, tomorrow we will not be able to build any hydropower plant or industrial park or even BHUs even on government land. Let us think of all the sacrifices our fellow countrymen and women had done for decades for the national development and not say “not in my backyard.”

Contributed by

Chhimi Dorji 

chimi6@gmail.com

Is Bhutan prepared for an earthquake?

Sat, 09/04/2021 - 13:55

Here’s how WFP & the Govt of Bhutan are working together to reduce the impacts of disasters on lives and property 

Did you know that Bhutan is vulnerable to many types of natural disasters? In fact, the country is at risk of earthquakes, floods, glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF), landslides and forest fires. While many of these disasters are inevitable, if we are prepared and alert, we can ensure that the damage they cause is kept to a minimum. 

One way to do this is to increase the resilience of new and existing buildings in the Western region of Bhutan, especially adobe and reinforced concrete structures. Right now, structures that do not follow earthquake-resilient building codes may not hold up well if there is even a minor earthquake. In fact, adobe buildings could suffer three times as much damage and higher fatalities during an earthquake.

In addition to this, lives are also at risk because many people are unaware of what to do before, during, or after a disaster such as an earthquake. For example, it is sometimes said that staying indoors or standing under heavy door frames is the safest thing to do during an earthquake. However, one of the first things we should do is run outdoors to avoid the roof or heavy objects falling on us.

Why is disaster risk 

management important right now?

Given our position in the Himalayas, Bhutan is naturally prone to seismic activity. It is important to note that the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) has taken this threat seriously and has made significant progress in Disaster Risk Management. The RGoB has introduced earthquake-resilient construction and has worked with organizations such as UNDP, World Bank and USAID to adopt guidelines for improving seismic resilient construction techniques for rammed earth structures. 

In 2013, the RGoB established the National Disaster Management Authority and Disaster Management Committees in all 20 dzongkhags. Despite these major steps, Bhutan still requires robust data information systems, response plans and coordination systems to adequately respond to emergencies.

This is where WFP comes in. As the agency responsible for leading the UN’s Disaster Risk Management and response to climate change related disasters in Bhutan, WFP supports the RGoB in governance and coordination, data preparedness, logistics, emergency telecommunications and food security.

In general, it is better to be prepared for a disaster in advance, rather than wait until it happens. In fact, for every dollar invested in disaster preparedness, US$7 is saved from the economic losses caused by the associated recovery.

How Government and WFP are working 

together

In 2019, WFP supported the RGoB to develop the Roadmap for Disaster Risk Management in Bhutan. The Roadmap sets out priority actions for Government, UN agencies and other developmental partners, and focuses on six major areas: Disaster Awareness; Data Preparedness; Governance; Coordination; Resourcing; and Sector Preparedness. WFP and the Department of Disaster Management are in the process of establishing a new Disaster Risk Roadmap for Bhutan for 2022-2026, which will be completed by October 2021. This new Roadmap aims to provide a strategic direction to enhance disaster risk management, by identifying critical challenges and providing recommendations to address them.

Another major move we have been making has been to strengthen data preparedness. In 2021, WFP supported the RGoB in setting up and implementing the “72 Hours Rapid Assessment and Digital Vulnerability Database” to estimate the possible impacts of a disaster and enable a response within 72 hours. This digital system provides critical information immediately after a disaster takes place and can help responders understand the scale of the disaster, the number of people potentially displaced, and the amount of emergency assistance required. 

WFP also partnered with UK’s Durham and Newcastle Universities to research the potential impact of earthquakes on Bhutan. This Earthquake Impact Assessment Model assessed a range of possible seismic scenarios, with corresponding impacts across each of the 20 different dzongkhags during the day and night. Given Bhutan’s current range of preparedness, Bhutan’s worst-case scenario projection showed that an earthquake at night could cause at least 9,000 fatalities, 10,000 serious injuries and displace more than 40,000 people. Given that Bhutan’s entire population is barely 750,000, the potential scope of the damage is truly significant.

What’s next?

Today, more than 50% of WFP’s programmes across the world address the risks of disasters and their impact, reaching approximately 50 million people per year. Logistics preparedness is particularly central to disaster response and humanitarian operations. 

As the lead international agency for logistics in Bhutan, WFP is working together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests – the government lead of the National Logistics Preparedness Working Group – to build the foundation for a robust logistics system to effectively respond to disasters. 

We are working closely with the RGoB and the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) to ensure that DDM officials and local officials have the skills and training they need to prepare and respond to earthquakes.

Overall, our priority is ensuring we have reliable research and data that helps us prepare for an emergency, as well as supporting the RGoB with strategic plans and operational capacity to respond to disasters. While we know that we are vulnerable to disasters here in Bhutan, we need not be helpless. Knowledge, preparation, and swift, effective responses can minimise risk and save lives. 

To learn more about WFP’s work in disaster risk management in Bhutan, follow us on Twitter @WFP_Bhutan or read the DRM factsheet: https://www.wfp.org/publications/disaster-risk-management-bhutan-2019-2023

Contributed by

Svante Helms, Head of Office, WFP Bhutan

Reviving lakes to solve drinking and irrigation water issues in Dagana

Sat, 09/04/2021 - 13:55

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

Plans are underway to revive drying lakes in Dagana dzongkhag which is expected to address drinking and irrigation water shortages in three gewogs in the district.

The residents of Gozhi gewog are hopeful that their water woes will be resolved when Joti Khola lake would be revived by June next year.

Due to shortage of drinking and irrigation water, about 50 households in the upper Gozhi chiwog couldn’t cultivate paddy for years.

A resident, Sherub, who formed a committee to revive the lake in the initial days said that by the time he resettled in Goshi 11 years ago, the lakes had started to dry up. “The lakes were reduced to tiny ponds since then.”

Only one of the four lakes remain

He said that volunteers carried out works to clean the lakes and religious figures installed lubums in the lakes. “With the help of the forest officials, we planted about 9,000 trees but it was a slow initiative. Limited resources also impacted us.”

Currently, Green Bhutan Corporation Limited has started reforestation activities in the vicinity of the lakes.

Worried by the rapid drying up of these lakes, the gewog administration informed the dzongkhag.

According to the dzongkhag environment officer, Karma Dorji Jimba, 70 percent of the lakes have dried and are infested with weeds. “There is immediate need for revival as there are no water sources for the upper Gozhi chiwog.”

He said that the Nu 3.5 million-project would be carried out using a community-based approach. “Weeds and debris will be removed with locally available materials involving the communities.”

The project also includes lake revival works in Dogag and Drujeygang gewogs in Dagana.

Meanwhile, of the four lakes, also known as Sherpa Lakha tsho, one has totally dried up while another is covered in weeds and undergrowth.

Sherub said villagers looked for drinking water sources but couldn’t find any. “We need to clean up the debris in the lake. We want to revive paddy cultivation as we cannot leave our land fallow.”

According to residents, reviving the lakes could also benefit the residents in Tshendagang and Gerserling gewogs.

Gozhi mangmi, Santa Bahadur Subba, said that in desperation, volunteers have come forward in the past to clear the lake but couldn’t do much.

Dagana’s National Council member, Surjaman Thapa, who has supported the revival works said that without glacial lakes, people in the southern foothills have to depend on spring water for drinking and irrigation water. “If we recharge these lakes, springs will be recharged. Acres of lands can be irrigated and we will be able to solve drinking water problems.”

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Phuentsholing marks 21 days without a positive community case

Sat, 09/04/2021 - 13:54

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

It has been 21 days without a single Covid-19 positive case from the community in Phuentsholing. Before the complete relaxation of restrictions on August 10, Phuentsholing was under lockdown for nearly four months after a boy tested positive on April 17.

Even after the relaxation, positive cases were reported from the medical supply depot on August 12. Many feared another lockdown. However, relaxations continued after 24 hours of the lockdown. Since then, not a single positive case has been detected in the town.

On September 2, more than 500 samples were collected from enhanced surveillance areas, flu clinics, communities, and quarantine facilities in Phuentsholing. Not a single person tested positive.

On September 1, a total of 301 samples were collected and all tested negative. Further, the samples received from other southern dzongkhags also tested negative.

In addition, all the active cases in the isolation ward of Covid-19 hospital turned negative and the ward was empty as of yesterday.

Meanwhile, more people were on the streets yesterday. However, they appeared cautious.

A businessman, Hem Kumar Ghalley said that even health experts weren’t able to explain many issues related to the Covid-19 transmission.

“The only information we get is what the government and the health ministry share,” he said. 

“Having no community transmission in 21 days is good news. But we cannot set ourselves free and celebrate.”

He said that the recent two cases—of a 39-year-old man and 14-year-old testing positive in quarantine centres in Thimphu were enough reason for people to be careful.

“Maybe there is a positive case within the community. We never know,” another resident said, adding that the best would be to comply with the protocols.

A resident, Nim Dorji said that the primary focus must be on the high-risk areas such as the containment zones, quarantine facilities, and warehouses. He said that such areas should be taken care of with strict Standard Operating Procedures.

Another resident, KB Tamang from Rinchending said that Phuentsholing could improve further if residents adhere to the rules. 

“There is every possibility,” he said.

If there are not many people in the town today, KB Tamang said that it was because many are under containment zones like industries in Pasakha, College of Science and Technology, Mini Dry Port, and few other areas are under containment zone.

The Southern Covid-19 Task Force is also working on various sensitisation programmes in bringing public ownership in combating the virus. A sensitisation programme for front liners such as de-suups and RBP personnel is underway. A similar programme was organised for residents in the town, including the business community.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Picture Story

Fri, 09/03/2021 - 11:42

  All Covid-19 active cases in the isolation ward in Phuentsholing have recovered and will leave for home today 

Seventeen years on, Paro families wait for land replacement 

Fri, 09/03/2021 - 11:41

Phub Dem  | Paro

 

Clearing the way to the international airport’s flight path, five houses belonging to three families in Bonday, Paro, had to be demolished in 2004.

It has been almost 17 years since the families tore down their ancestral homes for the country’s airport, but they couldn’t build a house for themselves yet.

Despite running from pillar to post, these families haven’t received their land replacement.

Bida, 73, lives in a rustic mud house that used to be a cowshed in Chintsho, where her home once stood, overlooking the southern part of the airport.

She recalls watching her ancestral home razed to the ground. She said that it was heartbreaking but was hopeful that they could build a new house in a few years. “I never thought it would take these many years to get the substitute land.”

Bida lives with her grandson after her daughter passed away.

Although the families were temporarily relocated to Bumtha Tshekha, two returned and settled where their house stands, reasoning that it was convenient for farming.

According to Bida, the temporary settlement faced an acute shortage of drinking water, and there was no space to grow vegetables.

It had been easier for Bida compared to extended families of Sonam Dema with six siblings and Lhab Gyem with six children. The family members constantly ask for their share of land.    

Sonam Dema said that she had to take care of everything after her mother and grandmother passed away, leaving the land replacement issue halfway, adding that her siblings had been asking for their share, either to build a house or to sell it. “We have invested time, energy and sacrificed many things to get the land replacement. We searched nook and corners of Paro for state land. Still, we don’t have a land certificate.”

Lhab Gyem said three of them visited every office in Paro and Thimphu until the compensation money was exhausted. “We are tired of visiting offices and writing applications to every relevant agency without any progress.”

The families were compensated for demolishing their houses and cutting down fruit trees on the flight’s way.

According to the minutes of a meeting held in 2004, the permanent plot could be allotted from the Bonday township area, but one should pay the land cost and other taxes.

Without proper homes, Lhab Gyem said that many family members stay around the country on rental, hoping that the issue will be solved and they could build a house for themselves sooner.

As the land replacement area is located on a hilltop far from the highway, some family members request the finance ministry for property reassessment. They are relocated from a prime location to a jungle.

In the meantime, Wangchang gup Kuenzang Rinzin said that he started working on the land substitution after discovering the issue, adding that the families had hopped into every office without success.

While the land replacement works are nearly completed, he said that registering the temporary plot at Bumtha Tshangu in the families’ name was the cause of delay due to forest clearance and the Paro Valley development plan.

As the area lies between highway and river, he said it was difficult to confirm whether it falls under green or buffer zone. “For last three years, I have constantly been following up on the case.”

After securing the clearance, he said that the documents were finally submitted to the dzongkhag land office and the online transaction was in full swing.

Although it seems the quest for land replacement is finally over, some family members were still sceptical. Some said that they spent this whole time hoping for some miracle, but the problem remained. “After many rejections, it is difficult to rejoice when officials say things are done. We had waited for years, and we are still waiting.”

According to sources, it was difficult to hold anyone responsible for the delay, adding that past local leaders should have been proactive as they were aware of the people’s challenges at the grassroots level.

Edited by Tshering Palden




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Nature-based solution to protect white-bellied heron: RSPN 

Fri, 09/03/2021 - 11:40

Chhimi Dema

Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN)’s nature-based project aims to ensure that the population of the critically endangered white-bellied heron (WBH), Ardea insignis, stabilise or increase the bird population while also strengthening the livelihoods of the communities along its habitats.

The five-year-long project called “Developing Ecosystem-based Solutions for Managing Biodiversity Landscapes in Bhutan” has been implemented along Punatsangchhu and Mangdechhu basins, the habitats of the WBH.

Earlier this year, RSPN recorded 19 WBH in Punatsangchhu basin, seven in Mangdechhu basin, and one in Kurigongri basin.

Globally, the bird population is less than 60.

RSPN’s chief of species conservation division, Indra Acharja, said that the project was inclusive; securing livelihoods, restoring, and protecting WBH habitats.

Under the project, he said, the first action initiated was conducting the ecosystem and socioeconomic resilience analysis and mapping (ESRAM). “After which the findings would present site-specific conservation or mitigation efforts required.”

ESRAM is the method of data collection and developing a baseline for appropriate orientation to, and foundation for, ecosystem-based adaptation planning.

The method assesses and integrate climate, ecological, social, economic, cultural, political and institutional factors; focus on interconnectivity; and combine technical skills and science with local and traditional knowledge.

Based on the findings of ESRAM, the priority activities will be developed for implementation.

There are 27 white-bellied herons in the country today (Photo: Tshering Tobgay, RSPN)




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After identifying the critical areas, the restoration programme will recreate the degraded habitats such as the feeding, roosting and nesting areas of WBH.

Indra said that the approach included securing the livelihood, building biodiversity and resilience of the communities. The project would support horticulture, organic agriculture, post-harvest processing and promote eco-tourism within the WBH landscape.

Indra said: “The significance of this project is the focus on areas that are outside the protected areas and identify its diversity values and ecosystem services, to decide on the approach to protect and sustainably use those resources.”

He said that protected areas have legal protection status but the areas outside that were equally rich in biodiversity lacked protection from development activities.

Indra said that conserving the two river basins landscape also protects other species in those areas.

Migratory bird, Ruddy Shelduck, using Punatsangchhu basin as wintering habitat, Pallas’s Fish Eagle and otters are some animals in the landscape.

“Through this programme, we will develop policies for the stakeholders and local communities to reduce disturbances and threats in those areas,” Indra said.

There is no direct approach to increase the bird’s population, he said. “But we try to recreate a suitable habitat in the hope that we will have a better population recovery in the country.”

Indra said that the habitat of the bird and population trend is still declining globally and Bhutan is on a stable trend.

The global distribution range of WBH is less than 165,000 square kilometres, he said.

The project is supported by Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conversation and Nuclear Safety through International Climate Initiative and co-funded by MAVA Foundation in Switzerland.

The overall support for the WBH conservation project was supported by Punatsangchhu Hydropower Project authority and Synchronicity Earth.

The project has a total budget of Euro 4.11 Million. The project started in July this year.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk




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Thimphu highlanders to get better porter-pony charges

Fri, 09/03/2021 - 11:39

Thinley Namgay

Highlanders of Lingzhi, Soe, and Naro will now get better charges for the porter-pony services.

Thimphu Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) approved new rates on August 31.

The old porter rate was Nu 300 a day, and the daily pony rate Nu 450. The DT revised the daily porter charges to Nu 500 and Nu 700 for pony services.

Soe Gup Kencho Dorji said that the government had increased the salary and allowances for the civil and public servants, but the charges for porter-pony had remained unchanged.

Kencho Dorji said that Lingzhi and Soe are some of the few places in the country where there are still no motorable roads.

“Porter-pony charges have become one of the sources of income for highlanders due to lack of road,” he said.

According to Kencho Dorji, it takes three days to reach Soe from Paro and Thimphu. Considering the expenses incurred on the way, he said that the old rate was not reasonable.

DT members say that the porter-pony rates were discussed several times in the past DT sessions.

Lingzhi Gup Wangdi said that with old porter-pony rates, only the people with more horses could earn some income while carrying the government’s goods and food items of FCB.

Thimphu Dzongdag Dorji Tshering said that as per the rules framed by the finance ministry, civil servants get porter-pony charge of Nu 1,200 daily.  Dzongdag said that considering that basis, the porter pony rates for highlanders should not be above Nu 1,200.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk




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Talking about mental health again

Fri, 09/03/2021 - 11:38

After a mental health sensitisation workshop in one of the schools, an elderly educated man turned up to the counsellor and confessed that he had been ignorant of the mental troubles his child was experiencing. He made a firm commitment to the teacher that he’ll do whatever it takes to help his child. Today, the child is better in academics and sports and is full of life.

However, we don’t hear often about such happy endings. 

Often what we hear are stories of how the victims struggled with their severe mental health issues until they ended their lives or impaired themselves for life. Any parent would help his children if one knew about the troubles they are going through. 

Mental health illnesses are in fact more common than most lifestyle-related illnesses like cancer, diabetes, or heart diseases that are among the top causes of mortality in the country. 

What could be going wrong then? Should we talk of good parenting? Of divorce cases? Of alcoholism? Of domestic violence? Of substance abuse? What about our community vitality? The list could go on… 

In a few days, experts and authorities will meet with the Prime Minister to thrash out how to address mental health issues on a united footing. The task in front of those at the meeting is monumental given the worrying trends of increasing mental health issues. 

The team will have to figure out answers to these above questions which would be equally challenging if not more than dealing with mental health issues. 

The hope is that the heads of these agencies would come with an open mind and a common objective to tackle the issue. And that they will contemplate about our friends, family members and productive youth who are suffering silently and keep their interest above all other things. 

This is an opportunity to also ensure those in the rural areas are catered to as well. 

On their own, each of these agencies has tried but could not do much. We need a different approach – a collaborative one. We must make a start and begin with coordinated efforts and measures with a holistic view of the problems. 

Any delay to implement concrete measures will put in danger many more lives. With time the challenges would only multiply. A new problem today is that we have thousands who have left to work abroad leaving their children with relatives and guardians. These children have emotional and psychological needs. 

We live in a country where happiness of the people is at the front and centre of our welfare-driven development initiatives but that doesn’t mean we have with success held our people, particularly the young, from exposure to risky, often dangerous environments. 

What we need from this meeting is not just commitment to act but action. We can only hope they do their homework well. 




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I had to return to Bhutan, my home: Fran Bak

Fri, 09/03/2021 - 11:38

Yangchen C Rinzin

When American tourist Frances H Bak, 70, left Bhutan in February 2020, she had planned to return as soon as possible. Then Bhutan had first positive Covid-19 case and tourism was shut down.

But she kept exploring ways to return to Bhutan.

Apart from her love for the country and people, it was because of the guide Gembo and the driver Tashi Tshering who guided her during her first visit.

Bak said that she always believed guides are true representatives of the country and people, which was portrayed truly through them. “Tourism sector has suffered. Somehow for their sake, I had to return to Bhutan and repay the services they rendered during my stay,” she said as she thanked them sitting beside her. “Through them, I have learnt how humble Bhutanese are and how homely Bhutan is.”

Through her visit, Bak hopes to give some hope to tourism sector.

Eyes filled with tears, she exclaimed, “I was so happy when I finally found out from a government agency that I can visit if I undergo mandatory quarantine. The first person I called was guide Gembo and only I know how emotional I was to inform I’ll be coming to Bhutan.”

Bak, who came to Bhutan on August 9, is the first tourist to officially visit Bhutan this year after tourism remained closed since March last year.

The government allows anyone to visit Bhutan as long as the person agrees to go through 21 days mandatory quarantine if not vaccinated, and 14 days if vaccinated with both doses.

She said that although she knew she would have to spend 21 days in the quarantine facility, she had to make a decision because for her to return to Bhutan meant returning home.

“Quarantine was not easy but it’s the country’s policy and protecting the people from virus is the primary object, which I should respect,” she added. “Frontline workers were very kind and they made my stay seamless.”

Calling a worthy time to spend in the quarantine facility, Bak was excited thinking how she would soon get to go around the country to meet rural communities again. She visited as far as Merak gewog in Trashigang during her first visit.

“I completely fell in love with the rural communities. They are also partly the reason I wanted to return. I am just in so love with Bhutan,” she said.

Bhutan was never on her list to visit but Bak had heard the country being referred to as the home of Gross National Happiness and the last Shangri-La. But one day she decided to visit and met someone who led her to agent MyBhutan. Rest is history.

“I still believe it was a karmic connection that brought me here because now I feel like Bhutan is my home. I belong here,” she said. “My first visit itself made me realise that I had taken the right decision.”

During her three months stay, Bak plans to visit various monasteries or institutions and play western gong that she carries around. Calling it her passion, she said gong has several benefits that help people relax their mind and soul. “I’ll be going around and playing the gong to help people. I’m a trained gong player. In a way, it fulfils my vision to help people with its benefits.”

Applauding the government’s fight against Covid-19 pandemic, Bak said this would not have been possible without a true leader that the country is blessed with. “His Majesty set an example of how communities should work together and Bhutan’s response against the pandemic is an example of how important it is to have a committed leader. This is an honest appreciation from a foreigner who has seen her own country fail the fight.”

“That’s why I know I’ll never regret my decision because I know I am safe here. After three months, let’s see what fate decides, but I’ll never stop visiting Bhutan.”

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk




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