Bhutan-UN partnership on the brink of 50 years

On September 21, 1971, Bhutan became the 128th member of the United Nations. The Officer of the United Nations in Bhutan was established in 1974.

Bhutan’s partnership with the United Nations is on the brink of reaching 50 years’ milestone. Over the next five years, the United Nations expects to support the 12th Five Year Plan with over Nu 7bn.

The country today has been home to many United Nations agencies, funds and programs that together support the government in delivering national development needs and improving the socio-economic conditions of the people of Bhutan.

For Eliminating Hunger, Food Insecurity and Malnutrition

Everyone can play a part in ending hunger. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Thus, the Zero Hunger goal implies leaving no one behind regarding hunger and all forms of malnutrition.

With the goal to achieving food security for all, and making sure the people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead an active and healthy lives. FAO has over 194 member states and works in over 130 countries worldwide.

The FAO has given Bhutan assistance in reflecting national development strategies and is entered on priority areas of developing and implementing effective agricultural policies and legal frameworks, and building institutional capacity for food security and nutrition, and environmental conservation.

Empowering Lives since 1973

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) helps to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities and exclusion in about 170 countries and territories around the world. Here in Bhutan, UNDP has worked tirelessly with the government since 1973, and it was the first United Nations agency to open an office in Thimphu in 1979.

Since then, UNDP has accompanied and supported Bhutan’s pursuit of Gross National Happiness, helping to build community resilience and empower the disadvantaged so that no-one is left behind in the nation’s story of successful, sustainable development.

From helping to establish the nation’s first airline back in 1981, to supporting Bhutan’s carbon neutral vision of electric vehicles in 2018, UNDP’s collaboration is changing with the times, drawing on its global knowledge network, innovations centers, technical skills and its world-class capacity to mobilize and leverage finance, particularly ‘green’ finance, for investment in Bhutan.

“Bhutan’s progress is remarkable: poverty dropped from 23 to 8% in little over a decade, while people live twice as long today as they did in the 1960s,” said Niamh Collier-Smith, Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP in Bhutan. “But as a middle income country exposed to climate change with an educated youth seeking good jobs, the nation’s most sophisticated challenges may well lie ahead. We are committed to being here to help,” she said.

This year, UNDP will sign a new plan of collaboration with the Royal Government that will span 2019 to 2023, in line with the 12th Five Year Plan. Framed by the desire to help Bhutan achieve Gross National Happiness and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, UNDP organizes its support into two areas: environment and livelihoods, and governance and advocacy, with issues of human rights and gender equality underpinning both.

Fulfilling every young person’s potential

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), focuses on delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young people potential is fulfilled

UNFPA began its partnership with Bhutan since the 1970s and its first country programme cycle started in 1987.

UNFPA in Bhutan collaborates with the government, non-government organization, youth groups and United Nations organizations through partnership, technical support, knowledge management and policy advocacy for delivery and utilization of quality sexual and reproductive health services and information which includes maternal health, adolescent sexual and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, gender-based-violence, reproductive health commodity security and data for development.

UNFPA has contributed to the country’s reduction in maternal mortality, unmet need, total fertility rate and cervical cancer related deaths. The UNFPA will continue to collaborate with partners to end unmet need for family planning, end maternal death, end violence and harmful practices against women and girls.

Targeting Happiness for Every Child in Bhutan

For over 70 years, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been the world’s leading child-rights organization and a respected partner-of-choice for saving and improving children’s lives in 190 countries and territories.

UNICEF’s work in Bhutan began in 1974 with support to the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation programme. Over time, the work was expanded to improve the lives of children, youth and women in other key programmatic areas to ensure a fair chance for every child in Bhutan. The chance to live and to grow strong, to play and to learn and to reach their full potential.

“Together with all our partners, we work to ensure that all children have access to education, health care, sanitation, clean water, protection and other services necessary for their survival, growth and development,” said Rudolf Schwenk, Representative of UNICEF Bhutan Country Office. “We support service delivery and have a strong field presence. We also engage in policy work and are a knowledge leader for children.”

According to the UNICEF, newborn deaths are still high in the country, which accounts for more than half of under five deaths.

Stunting in children remains a major concern. “Nationally, one in five children under five is stunted,” said Beate Dastel, the Deputy Representative of UNICEF Bhutan Country Office. “Stunting is 1.8 times higher in the eastern region as compared to the west, and rural areas have 1.6 times more stunted children than urban areas.”

According to UNICEF, further investment in key social areas is necessary to close the gaps and achieve equity so that every child is given the fair chance in life to reach their full potential.

Fighting illicit drugs and trafficking in persons

As a global leader to fight against illicit drugs and international crime, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), is mandated to assist member states in their struggle against illicit drugs, crime and terrorism.

UNODC under its regional programme for South Asia provides assistance for programmes intervening to counter illicit drug use and trafficking in persons. UNODC collaborated with its partners in Bhutan to conduct drug use survey, promote international standards on drug use prevention, training to treat and manage drug use including technical support to initiate the first oral substitution therapy service in the country.

UNODC also in collaboration with the Royal Government of Bhutan is also currently implementing a project to counter trafficking in persons. The agency will continue to work through its Regional Programme for South Asia which covers Bhutan along with other five countries in the South Asia Region. UNODC seeks to continue its support and expand the collaboration to key areas such as drug use prevention and countering corruption.

Empowering Bhutanese Women

Every effort for human development and human rights have gender dimensions for which the UN Women focuses on priority areas that are important to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.

In Bhutan, UN Women works with the government and Civil Society Organizations by providing technical expertise and guidance on gender issues and how to address the gender gaps. Dedicated to gender equality and empowerment of women, UN Women was established in 2014 to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide and promotes the UN system’s work in advancing gender equality.

Some of the area of focus for UN Women in Bhutan are promoting Bhutanese women’s political leadership and gender responsive governance, gender responsive budgeting, and promoting women’s economic empowerment, ending violence against women through the ‘HeForShe’ campaign and supporting reporting and implementation of the recommendations of the periodic reports of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Changing lives, to achieve Zero Hunger

The story of how the World Food Program (WFP) started as a relatively small special project of FAO in 1961, but has since evolved into the largest humanitarian agency in the world. Now, WFP serves more than 80 million people per year in around 80 countries globally.

In Bhutan, there are hundreds of thousands of people \who have grown up eating meals in the schools they attended which was provided by the WFP. Today, many of them are prominent members of the Bhutanese society, serving the country as government officials, teachers, armed forces, but also as father and mothers of Bhutan’s children.

For over 44 years, WFP supports the government and the people of Bhutan in providing meals to school children to help combat malnutrition, reduce gender and economic inequality and increase primary and secondary school enrollment, especially for girls.

As our country develops, the government now has the full capacity to manage the school feeding program so there is no more need for WFP food. However, WFP remains committed to the program and will continue to assist the government in making the programme more nutrition focused with the aim to improve dietary practices in the country.

In the new five year plan of WFP, which is part of the UNSDPF and supports the RGoB’s 12th Five Year Plan, WFP will continue its support to this shift from school feeding towards school nutrition. In addition it will also continue to provide technical assistance to roll out rice fortification and the fortification of other foods. The ultimate goal of all these efforts is to ensure the Bhutanese diet becomes healthier so that the people overall health of the population improves,” said Piet Vochten, the Head of the WFP Country Office in Bhutan.

He added that the WFP will no longer be phasing out from Bhutan and will continue to support the government on addressing some of the food security and nutrition related issues the country continues to face. Meanwhile, with the increasing number of climate change induced disaster and with the risk of seismic events affecting the country, WFP is also assisting the government in to be better prepared for the case when such an emergency would occur.

Reaching Care to those Who Need it

In 1982, the World Health Organization (WHO) began the biennium with just two programmed with a total budget of approximately US$ 250,000.

For WHO officials who came to Bhutan to establish the Country Office in January 1983, Bhutan was a challenge and an opportunity. Given its rugged topography and scattered population Bhutan was a difficult country.

Since then, the WHO’s collaboration with the government has grown to encompass over 40 public health program areas with a budget of US$ 2mn a year. Today, WHO is the lead technical partner of the government in the area of health and also works closely with other sectoral ministries and national agencies active in the area of health.

Over the past decade, the international public health landscape has changed in Bhutan. Many new partners and stakeholders work together today in international health.

The WHO in Bhutan works for five programs of Communicate Diseases Department, Family Health Gender and Life Course, Health Systems Strengthening for Universal Health Coverage, Health Security and Emergency Response, and Non-communicable Diseases and Environmental Health.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu