Education in Bhutan
Nestled underneath the economic powerhouse of China, the Himalayan nation of Bhutan boasts a diverse population that works across the agricultural, industrial and service industries. The service industries command 22 percent of the labor force. Because of this multifaceted workforce, Bhutan’s unemployment rate mulled around 3.2 percent in both 2016 and 2017, while approximately one-eighth of the population lives below the global poverty line. Despite these impressive numbers, education in Bhutan is the one arena where the country suffers. The predominant issue is whether the nation can provide an adequate, consistent education.

The creation of school systems, both public and private, has a tremendous effect on poverty reduction. According to the Global Partnership for Education, approximately 420 million people would be out of poverty if sufficient secondary education were available to them.

Governmental Infrastructure and Plans

That said, the Bhutanese government has made substantial progress in increasing access to and improving education in Bhutan. Education starts with teachers and professors, and over the past year, Bhutan has seen a 4 percent drop in the number of teachers. In an effort to combat this stark drop and in an attempt to decrease unemployment among the young adult population, Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and his government decided to double the salaries of teachers who remain in the profession for 10 or more years, thus making teaching the highest-paid civil service profession in Bhutan. In addition to this pay-raise, Prime Minister Tshering stated that his government hopes to provide career advancement for teachers, which would, in turn, lead to vast educational improvements.

The increased salary occurs at the midway point of the country’s 10-year educational reform, which aims to improve quality of and access to education in Bhutan. The Bhutan Educational Blueprint is comprised of eight different shifts, all with this central goal in mind. A few of the core tenants of these shifts (and the blueprint in total) include:

  • Improving overall access to education in Bhutan (including secondary and tertiary education)
  • Establishing a more modern, well-rounded curriculum
  • Elevating student performance to international standards
  • Making teaching a more desirable vocation
  • Maintaining the standards of high-performing schools and teachers once met

The Implementation of the Plans

Furthermore, the Bhutan government plans to dole these eight shifts out slowly over the course of three distinct waves, lasting years. The first wave, which ended in 2017, focused primarily on laying the groundwork and preparing the nation for extensive educational overhauls. The second wave, which will end in 2020, is concerned with building upon what Bhutan has established – improving access to tertiary education, rolling out new curricula and implementing new educational pathways. The third and final wave will turn to fortifying the newly established systems, guaranteeing quality education in Bhutan.

Combining this educational blueprint with increased teacher salaries is an incredible first step in improving education in Bhutan. Furthermore, these raises should help guarantee an all-important component of education: trained professionals prepared to teach the next generation of professionals, innovators and leaders in order to hopefully reduce poverty and unemployment rates even further.

– Colin Petersdorf
Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in Bhutan
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small sovereign state saddled between India and China, with an estimated population of less than 800,000. For hundreds of years, Bhutan existed in almost total isolation from the outside world. Upon King Jigme Wangchuck’s ascension to the throne in 1972, he began an ambitious program of modernization and reform that continues today. Despite much progress in poverty reduction, institutional development and new infrastructure, Bhutan still has a large number of poor, rural workers who lack credit access.

Microcredit: A Way Forward for Credit Access in Bhutan?

Since the 1970s, microfinance has — in best cases — transformed poor workers in developing countries into successful entrepreneurs making vital contributions to their local economies. By extending small lines of credit at low rates, microcredit lenders enable workers to invest in wealth-generating capital such as plows, stone ovens and weaving looms.

Microfinance has been slow to catch on in Bhutan owing to underdeveloped infrastructure and a lingering barter economy. A 2010 Institute of Microfinance report concluded that microfinance was then still a nascent form, but remained upbeat about its potential, stating “easy access to institutional credit is prerequisite to convert agriculture enterprise into profitable activity (sic).”

According to the report, only an estimated 20 percent of all Bhutanese farmers—and just 10 percent of small farmers—had access to credit in 2010. It also highlighted a number of challenges to expanding microcredit in Bhutan, such as a tendency for rural workers to trade in goods rather than currency.

The World Bank suggests that for microfinance to really take root, it has to operate within a larger context that includes favorable government policies, available technology—as well as sensitivity to the real needs of borrowers.

The effectiveness of microfinance in reducing poverty has increasingly come into question in recent years, but most studies suggest it still brings benefits when implemented correctly and with the correct motives. In addition to addressing the conditions necessary for effective microfinance operations, The World Bank emphasizes that credit rates must be subsidized below market levels to truly benefit poor borrowers— highlighting the role of government and non-profit organizations.

Obstacles to Credit Access in Bhutan

Despite overwhelming needs, microcredit options are few in Bhutan. An article by the International Finance Corporation concludes that lack of access to finance remains a key inhibitor of private investment and business growth.

As of 2013, there was only one national program offering microfinance options, but the Royal Government has shown willingness to facilitate increased levels of fair and profitable micro-financing. For instance, in 2016, Bhutan’s Royal Monetary Authority produced a set of guidelines for governing the conduct of micro-financial institutions that protect the interests of borrowers. It will, however, be a challenge for the government to enforce these regulations in rural areas where most economic activity goes unrecorded.

Bhutan’s rural population and underdeveloped transit infrastructure present additional obstacles to sustainable micro-finance. Bernd Baehr, Project Director of RENEW Microfinance—one of the largest NGO micro-financers operating in Bhutan—told Bhutanese media source, Kuensel, that, “micro-finance in Bhutan cannot be profitable unless the infrastructure and technology keep up with the pace of development.” To illustrate this, Baehr pointed to the vast inefficiencies resulting from field officers often having to have to drive for up to six hours to reach clients.

Looking Forward

Considering these obstacles, the overall picture for Bhutan’s economic development looks positive. When the country’s per capita GDP was first recorded in 1961 it was the lowest in the world at just $52. Now, Bhutan’s per capita GDP is more than $3,000 and the economy is experiencing sustained annual growth of around seven percent.

By capitalizing on these gains, Bhutan’s Royal Government can establish the groundwork for sustainable future investments. Improving infrastructure and financial regulation, and incentivizing subsidized lending to poor, rural borrowers could begin to help poor workers access credit and secure essential capital to elevate them from serfdom and poverty.

– Jamie Wiggan
Photo: Flickr

PA Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Bhutan
Bhutan is only slightly larger than the state of Maryland, but the predominantly Buddhist nation holds a powerful place both in history and the future. For centuries, the Kingdom of Bhutan remained independent and resisted colonization. Though the country joined the United Nations in 1971 and began facilitating foreign tourism in 1974, Bhutan’s government has remained committed to its legacy of autonomy. In 2008, the country gained fame with its enactment of Gross National Happiness (GNH), a philosophy and an index which monitors collective well-being. These top 10 facts about living conditions in Bhutan show how quickly the country has developed since the first road was paved in 1961, opening the way to modernization.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Bhutan

  1. Poverty rates are dropping every year. In 2007, 23 percent of the population lived in poverty. In just five years, the number fell by half, and as of 2017, only 8.2 percent of the population lived below the national poverty line. Extreme poverty is nearly nonexistent, affecting less than 2 percent of the population. Despite these achievements, there is a disparity between rural and urban areas. Rural areas have a poverty rate of 11 percent while fewer than 1 percent of urban dwellers live in poverty.
  2. Bhutan’s economy is consistently growing. While agriculture is the main livelihood for 54 percent of Bhutanese people, the economy is also based on forestry, tourism and the sale of hydroelectric power (mostly to India). The GDP has skyrocketed from $0.14 billion in 1980 to $2.51 billion in 2017, and the economy’s average growth between 2006 and 2015 was 7.5 percent.
  3. Unemployment hits youth the hardest. Though the country’s unemployment rate is only 2.1 percent, 13.2 percent of youth (15 to 24 years old) are unemployed. Bhutan’s growing economy is largely driven by the hydropower sector, but the industry does not guarantee enough jobs for the growing population. Institutions like the World Bank recommend that Bhutan invest more in the private sector in order to diversify the economy and combat youth unemployment.
  4. Access to clean water is becoming a basic right. Over 98 percent of the population has access to improved drinking water, a huge success when compared to past decades. Improved water sources, however, do not always equate to safe drinking water. The Royal Center for Disease Control tested more than 5,000 water samples and found that only 44.3 percent were safe to drink. Still, the government remains committed to improving water quality for its citizens, and in 2016, developed the Bhutan Drinking Water Quality Standard.
  5. Public healthcare is free. Healthcare is a basic human right in Bhutan. Life expectancy is now 70 years old, a stark difference compared to the 1960s when life expectancy was 37 years old and only two hospitals existed in the country. Bhutan now has 28 hospitals, 156 basic health clinics and 654 outreach clinics. Nine out of 10 women have their children in hospitals or healthcare facilities, and the child survival rate is 93 percent.
  6. Seventy-six percent of the population is happy. According to the Bhutan Living Standards Report of 2017, more than 40 percent of the population is moderately or very happy. Every five years, 8,000 households are randomly selected to take a 3-hour-long happiness survey, with questions ranging from health, education, psychological well being, community vitality, etc. Participants are compensated for a day’s worth of work, likely increasing happiness.
  7. Education rates are low but rising. Bhutan has developed dramatically in the last decades, and education rates are reflecting this change. As of 2017, 95 percent of the population had completed primary school and 70 percent completed secondary school. Progress was slower because education is not compulsory, but primary and secondary education rates have drastically increased. In 1988, only 25 percent of the population had completed primary school, and still less (5 percent) got a secondary school education.
  8. Bhutan is committed to conservation and sustainability. Bhutan is the only carbon negative country in the world. Its constitution mandates that 60 percent of its land remains forested, an area that absorbs more carbon than the country produces. However, modern times have brought new struggles in regards to conservation. As the economy and population grow, more strain is put on the environment. WWF Bhutan Country Representative Dechen Dorji explains that “We need to balance the need for economic development – like hydropower and tourism – with the need to protect natural resources.”
  9. There are no McDonald’s in Bhutan. Though it sounds funny, this fact is symbolic of Bhutan’s commitment to protecting its cultural heritage and way of life. Bhutan understands that foreign influence is inevitable, but the country seeks to strike a balance between modernization, foreign investment and tradition. Consequently, Bhutan follows a “high value, low impact” tourism policy, which requires tourists to spend between $200 and $250 each day. This controls the influx of tourists and guarantees investment in the country.
  10. Bhutan is the 27th least-corrupt country in the world. According to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, out of 168 countries, Bhutan is one of the least corrupt. Bribes are almost nonexistent in the court system, and only 1 percent of companies feel that the courts inhibit business. Furthermore, as citizens of one of the youngest democracies in the world, Bhutanese people are guaranteed freedom of speech and of the press, which allows government corruption to be critiqued and exposed by the media.

Sustainable development and investment in health, education and happiness have set Bhutan up for a bright future. These top 10 facts about living conditions in Bhutan demonstrate the country’s commitment to growth and collective well-being. There is still room for improvement, and by partnering with institutions like the World Bank and allying with local nonprofits like the Bhutan Youth Development Fund, Bhutan is addressing its development goals on all fronts.

– Kate McIntosh
Photo: Flickr

Hydropower Projects in Bhutan
Bhutan, despite its infinitesimal size, has recently found itself developing at breakneck speed. Regarded as Asia’s fastest growing economy, Bhutan is on the upswing with its GDP expected to grow by 11.1 percent between 2017 and 2019 — much more than its neighboring nations are presumed to expand in the same bracket of time, such as Ethiopia (8.7 percent) and India (7.73 percent). These projections beg the question: what is the driving force behind the betterment of the economy in Bhutan?

Hydropower Projects in Bhutan

Hydropower has proven to be at a climacteric point in the Bhutanese economy; the Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay, listed it as one of Bhutan’s “Five Jewels” in 2014 specifically for this reason. “Indeed, the past fiscal year saw hydropower accounting for 32.4 percent of the country’s total exports and 8 percent of its GDP,” reported Alexander Jones of the International Banker, “with the construction of three projects, in particular, helping to push GDP growth to 6.5 percent last year.”

Similar projects have helped trim the nation’s trade deficit, in turn greatly benefit the economy of Bhutan.

Diplomacy with India

Two times, once in 2006 and again in 2009 (a renewal, of sorts, of the original accord), Bhutan and India co-signed an agreement regarding the hydroelectric industry. This agreement called for Indian assistance in the development of hydropower projects.

Three of these projects, developed under an intergovernmental model, have come to fruition: Punatsangchhu HEP I and II, and Mangdechhu HEP. The projects that began beneath this intergovernmental system are entirely financed by the Indian government.

Projects Working for Change

Six more similar tasks were born of a joint venture model, though only one — Kholongchhu HEP — has seen the light of day, as of now. These developments are part of the larger scheme outlined in the agreement: to establish 10,000 megawatts worth of hydropower by the year 2020.

The consummation of these projects is expected to double Bhutan’s hydropower generation from 1,600 megawatts to over 5,200 megawatts in the span of a decade. An estimated 80 percent of this power would be sent to India, with the remainder being consumed domestically.

Soon enough, India may not be Bhutan’s only partner in the field of hydropower. Bangladesh has offered $1 billion to establish a hydropower project of their own in Bhutan’s Lhuentse district, worth 1,125 megawatts. This power would be channeled to Bangladesh through India.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

This trilateral effort was sent to both India and Bangladesh by Bhutan in early 2016. While Bangladesh accepted the memorandum, although making slight amendments, it took India a year to agree, eventually returning the agreement in early 2017.

India is also Bhutan’s “largest trading partner” according to the Economic Times, with exports making up 90 percent of the country’s trade, and imports similarly constituting 82 percent. Besides hydropower, the economy in Bhutan thrives in exporting metals, chemical products, food, wood and rubber.

Hydropower projects in Bhutan are an example of win-win cooperation,” wrote S.K. Sinha for the Kootneeti. As long as nations work together, clean and inexpensive energy in India can help all peoples and economies involved. 

– Jordan De La Fuente
Photo: Flickr

The Development of South Asia Through Integration
South Asia is considered one of the least integrated regions across the globe; yet in recent years, international organizations, such as the World Bank, are implementing strategies to unite the nations economically.

Understanding South Asia

South Asian countries consist of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. South Asia is considered one of the fasting growing regions within the world today, and the region is home to two very fast-growing economies.

According to the World Bank, the development of South Asia is projected to increase from 6.9 percent to 7.1 percent in the upcoming year.

Bhutan, alone, is currently the fastest growing economy — the nation reports that it will grow at a staggering annual rate of 11.1 percent. India is also one of the fastest growing economies as well, with a growth rate at about 7.73 percent from 2017-2019.

The World Bank emphasizes the importance of cooperation and trade among South Asia, and they believe that the growth rate is predicted to increase if these nations work together in harmony.

Path to Progress

Regional, economic entwinement is the way in which development of South Asia progresses — the World Bank recognizes such measures and has initiated plans in order to unify this region.

As one of the first steps, the World Bank brought approximately 100 students together at the Fourteenth South Asia Economics Students’ Meet (SAESM). Economic undergraduates discussed their academic and experimental research about regional integration and its advantages.

They also explained how to attain economic prosperity through cooperation and trade, and students developed long-lasting friendships that should unequivocally encourage future relations among South Asian countries.

‘One South Asia’

Not only has the World Bank encouraged millennials, but they also have a twofold program called “One South Asia,” which directly forms connections among South Asian countries. The first objective is technical assistance, which will offer economic opportunities to strengthen trade connections. The second goal is to increase conversation about regional integration and local investments.

They are also trying to work with both the public and private sectors. The development of South Asia begins at the engagement of all levels of the economy.

There has been many obstacles to achieve “One South Asia,” yet the World Bank is determined to merge these nations together so they are successful economically, politically and socially. The development of South Asia as a whole will be difficult, yet it is possible and can occur if the region continues on this trajectory.

The World Bank’s Influence and Steps to Development

The World Bank has many projects within South Asian nations — particularly Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan — to improve their economies individually. Most of these initiatives create jobs and opportunities for their citizens.

Regional integration is also crucial to the development of South Asia. The only way to reach prosperity is for countries to form a union — if South Asia mirrored the European Union, the opportunities for growth within each nation are endless.

This is a challenge, yet if international organizations, governments and the citizens of South Asia work tirelessly, they will surely reach their Sustainable Development Goals.

– Diana Hallisey
Photo: Flickr

Sanitation Facilities in Bhutan
Bhutan has made tremendous strides over the last few decades toward ensuring all people have access to clean and safe drinking water. In 1990, only 72 percent of the population of Bhutan had access to an improved water source and only 67 percent in rural areas. Just over 20 years later, The World Health Organization (WHO), in its 2012 Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS) for Bhutan, reported that now 98 percent of the population of Bhutan has access to an improved source of drinking water.

Room for Improvement

Despite these tremendous improvements, 13 percent of childhood deaths in Bhutan are attributed to diarrhea. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 88 percent of diarrhea cases are caused by unclean water or improper sanitation facilities. Likewise, an estimated 30 percent of all health problems reported in rural areas of Bhutan stem at least partially from unsafe drinking water or improper sanitation methods.

Bhutan’s Ministry of Health and the Bhutanese Public Health Engineering Division recognize that a lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities is still a major cause of death and disease. It also recognizes that rural areas are especially in need of better sanitation facilities. In response, improving access to clean water and to high-quality sanitation services has become a priority.

Accessing Sanitation Facilities in Bhutan

Having access to clean water and having access to proper sanitation facilities are intrinsically linked. Sanitation facilities that are not properly containing waste can pollute what otherwise would be a clean source of water. However, data from the WHO indicates a lack of access to sanitation facilities in Bhutan is by far the larger of the two issues. In 2012, when 98 percent of Bhutanese had access to an improved water source, only 47 percent had access to an improved sanitation facility. The problem is especially acute in rural areas, which contain 80 percent of those who lack access to sanitation facilities.

To continue improving access to clean water and sanitation facilities in Bhutan, the government teamed up with UNICEF’s WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) program and formed the Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Program (RSAHP). RSAHP works in rural communities across Bhutan to promote proper hygiene and sanitation practices and to help communities develop improved sanitation facilities.

RSAHP was initially brought to three of Bhutan’s most rural districts. By 2017, all three had improved sanitation coverage by more than 95 percent. Since its inception, the program has now spread to more than 800 rural communities. RSAHP strives to empower these communities by educating people about the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation and helping communities mobilize existing resources and manpower to construct new, effective sanitation facilities.

Importance of Clean Water & Proper Sanitation

Access to clean water prevents numerous diseases, including cholera, typhoid, diarrhea, dysentery and dracunculiasis. It is also associated with rates of school attendance for girls and rates of women in the workforce. Without easy access to clean water, many girls and women are forced to spend their time accessing and transporting water and, as such, stop attending school or are unable to work. The progress Bhutan has made toward ensuring access to clean water and modern sanitation facilities will help ensure a better future for all.

– Abigail Dunn
Photo: Flickr

GNH in Bhutan
In 1972, the fourth King of Bhutan declared that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product”. This idea has since shaped the nation and was included in the constitution in 2008.

Defining GNH in Bhutan

Bhutan, as a developing country, has designed Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a more holistic measurement of progress and prosperity of a country. Specifically, GNH in Bhutan is based on equitable social development, cultural preservation, conservation of the environment and good governance. This special method of political quantification emphasizes wellbeing over material growth, environmental conservation and sustainability over economic growth.

Some doubt the possibility of creating a nation full of a happy population. However, Bhutan’s minister of education Thakur Singh Powdyel has that “GNH in Bhutan serves as an aspiration, a set of guiding principles through which we are navigating our path towards a sustainable and equitable society”.

Ever since elucidating the ideal of GNH in Bhutan, the government has laid out national policies on the grounds of sustainability. Namely, the country has pledged to remain carbon-neutral and set at least 60 percent of its landmass under forest cover in perpetuity. Moreover, Bhutan prohibited some profit-making commercial activities in forests, like export logging, and also established a monthly pedestrian day that bans all private vehicles from roads.

Demonstrable Success

This visionary model has since demonstrated long-run success both economically and socially. According to the Bhutan Living Standard Survey 2007 Report, the nation successfully met a number of key Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations. Bhutan’s policies halved the number of children wasting or stunted, and the number of people without access to clean drinking water and sanitation. In addition, the nation has experienced strong and stable growth over the past 25 years.

The real growth in 2006-2007 was 8.5 percent and the GDP per capita was $1,313. Likewise, the Human Development Index was improved as well, from 0.325 in 1984 to 0.581 in 1995. This increase was unparalleled among all Least-Developed Countries and shifted Bhutan to the status of a Middle-Income Country. But overall, how effective has it been for Bhutan to lay GNH as the foundation of its national political agenda?

Challenges Remain for Bhutan

Despite its aspirational guiding principles, Bhutan remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with more than 25 percent of its population living on less than $1.25 a day and 70 percent living without electricity. The nation also grapples with rampant violent crime, gang culture and volatile global food prices.

The deep roots of poverty still linger in Bhutan and its people are nowhere near the top rankings of the U.N. Report of Happiness of Countries in 2017, with the ranking of 97. Journalists’ Association of Bhutan executive director Needrup Zangpo told NPR that the outside world “glamorizes Bhutan but overlooks a list of problems besetting the country.”

Bhutan still struggles with socio-economic problems like a widening income gap, youth unemployment and environmental degradation. On top of that, the mysterious reputation of Bhutan being a contented country has attracted many international visitors, which is aggressively encouraged by the government, at the expense of the local environment and culture.

It is difficult to truly quantify happiness, but the wellbeing of the Bhutanese population can indeed be encouraged by simultaneously caring for the environment and the economy.

– Heulwen Leung
Photo: Flickr

U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Bhutan
Bhutan is a small country sandwiched between India and China and the only country in the world that is carbon negative. The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Bhutan in more ways than one can imagine. Although the U.S. and Bhutan never established formal diplomatic relations, the two countries maintain warm, informal relations via the U.S. embassy situated in New Delhi, India and Bhutan’s mission to the U.N., New York.

Both countries are members of many global financial institutions such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Bhutan and the U.S.

The U.S. is one of the major indirect foreign sponsors of development of the fledgling economy of Bhutan. Yet, viewing it as an investment and not aid is more accurate as the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Bhutan.

The World Bank granted a $9 million interest-free loan to help Bhutan develop a calcium carbide plant near Phuntsholing. As of 1990, total Asian Development Bank loans to Bhutan amounted to $30 million.

Bank Loans

In 1987 and 1988 alone, the Asian Development Bank approved loans amounting to around $6.9 million to cover the costs of industrial estates modernization and to provide foreign currency for the Bhutan Development Finance Corporation, which in turn provided credit for agricultural projects and private-sector businesses.

Asian Development Bank loans to Bhutan for 1990-93 were projected at $35 million, plus a grant of more than $4.85 million; the aid was for technical assistance.

How the U.S. Benefits from Foreign Aid to Bhutan

Naturally, these plans have emboldened Bhutan; however, it is essential to note how the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Bhutan. The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Bhutan by opening up numerous opportunities of an untapped market. Although, these may not be visible at first. The following points may bring about a new perspective:

  1. In 2015, foreign exports from the United States to Bhutan totaled $213,126 — a significant economic benefit to the U.S. from its foreign aid to Bhutan.
  2. Bhutan is the only country in the world whose major export is a clean energy – hydropower. The U.S., meanwhile, is striving to become a major exporter of renewable energy technology.
  3. To this day, there are still no chain establishments such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, 7-11, Baskin Robbins, Subway, etc. Bhutan remains almost untouched by the outside world.
  4. There only two airlines that fly to Bhutan, which are Druk Air and Royal Bhutan.
  5. There is only one escalator in the whole country located in a shopping mall in Thimpu.

As Governor Tom Ridge rightly states, “By building new markets overseas, for American products, the International Affairs budget creates jobs and boosts the economy here at home.” The opportunities in developing Bhutan could be endless!

– Himja Sethi

Photo: Flickr

Elimination of Measles in Bhutan and Maldives
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads through air and direct contact. It is characterized by symptoms lasting from four to seven days, including a red rash, fever, cough, conjunctivitis and white spots inside the mouth.

Despite being a vaccine-preventable disease, measles continues to be the leading cause of deaths among young children worldwide. Since 15 percent of vaccinated children do not develop immunity from the first dose, one of the main reasons behind the high death rates associated with the disease is incomplete vaccination doses received by children.

The WHO collaborated with the ministries of health of low-income countries, U.N. agencies and local NGOs to stop the occurrence of measles outbreaks and unite multidisciplinary efforts to eliminate measles at a global scale. For instance, Bhutan and Maldives launched their Expanded Immunization Programs during the late 1970s, and have since exerted tremendous attempts to increase immunization services to the population.

Last year, the WHO confirmed the elimination of measles in Bhutan and Maldives, an achievement that labeled the two countries as the first two nations in the WHO South-East Asia Region capable of interrupting the endemic measles virus transmission ahead of the 2020 regional target.


WHO Praises the Successful Elimination of Measles in Bhutan & Maldives

Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia, acknowledged the dedication and hard work of these two developing nations by describing it as a “momentous public health achievement.” She stated that the elimination of measles in Bhutan and Maldives should provide hope and guidance for other low-income countries suffering from high mortality and morbidity rates caused by the infection.

Additionally, Singh praised both countries for the establishment of strong surveillance systems in collaboration with laboratories in order to conduct detailed case investigations and tracking for every identified measles case.


Effective Actions Toward the Elimination of Measles in Bhutan and Maldives

The Ministry of Health in Bhutan accredits this noteworthy achievement to the various initiatives implemented to get rid of the disease. One of the essential strategies that has contributed to the elimination of the disease in both countries was the introduction of childhood immunization plans and the Measles Immunization Coverage in 1985.

The ministry’s health secretary, Ugen Dophu, announced that Bhutan was able to immunize 98 percent of children, a high rate that exceeds the WHO’s childhood immunization recommendation of at least 80 percent. He also highlighted the important role played by parents in the process of eliminating measles in Bhutan and Maldives — parental cooperation and understanding led to the attainment of higher immunization rates among children.


Future Plans to Sustain the Fight Against Measles

The health ministry has designed various plans and strategies to prevent future measles outbreaks and ensure the sustainability of efforts toward the elimination of measles in Bhutan and Maldives.

Dr. Dophu asserted that the health ministry will also collaborate intensively with the WHO to carry out a mass measles immunization campaign, This effort should increase accessibility and affordability of the vaccine among children and adults up to 40 years of age.

Moreover, new health screening systems will be installed at each of the country’s entry points to urge people to complete the screening procedures, and subsequently, protect the public health at large.

– Lea Sacca

Photo: Flickr

sustainable agriculture in bhutan

Bhutan is a small, predominately mountainous country landlocked between China and India. It has a population of nearly 760,000 people— about 70 percent of whom live in rural areas. The agricultural sector is central to the Bhutanese economy. Over 65 percent of the population is involved in agriculture and it accounts for over 20 percent of Bhutan’s GDP. Thus, sustainable agriculture in Bhutan is a necessary future development.

The Effects of Climate Change

Most of Bhutan’s rural population depends on subsistence farming. However, climate change is altering ecosystems in ways that have far-reaching, adverse consequences for health and the economy. For example, high-mountain environments, such as that of Bhutan, are particularly vulnerable to changes in climate. This is in part due to the rapid rate of temperature changes which increases with elevation.

The projected effects of climate change in Bhutan include increasingly frequent floods and landslides, receding glaciers and other natural hazards — which all impose barriers to sustainable agriculture development.

Sustainable Agriculture in Bhutan

Sustainable agriculture in Bhutan is an important factor for socio-economic development and growth. In addition to climate-related hazards, challenges to productive and sustainable agriculture in Bhutan include water scarcity, fragmented landholding, changing land use, negative human-wildlife interactions, inadequate irrigation and poor infrastructural development.

In 2017, the Government of Bhutan developed the ‘Enhancing Sustainability and Climate Resilience of Forest and Agricultural Landscape and Community Livelihoods in Bhutan’ project. Its objectives are to strengthen biological corridors, build resilience for adaption to climate change and support sustainable agriculture in Bhutan by 2023.

Food Insecurity

Climate change poses fundamental threats to people’s livelihoods in Bhutan with its potential to increase food insecurity and rural poverty. Despite substantial economic growth in recent years, rates of food insecurity and malnutrition remain high. Thirty-three percent of the Bhutanese population suffers from food insecurity. Furthermore, over 33 percent of Bhutanese children have stunted growth.

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals’ target of increasing agricultural productivity by 2030 is also driving the government’s efforts in the agricultural sector.

Although it will be difficult for Bhutan to reach this target due to uneven and mountainous terrain, the country is committed to alleviating poverty and food insecurity through sustainable agriculture development.

– Gabrielle Doran

Photo: Flickr