English | Dzongkha Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Towards a Smarter, Greener and More Resilient Recovery through Innovation in Bhutan


Jul 2, 2020

The Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) and United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) signed a partnership agreement today to mark the start of a new UNDP-supported COVID-19 Response and Recovery Project funded by the Government of Japan (GoJ).

The Ambassador of Japan to Bhutan, Satoshi Suzuki joined the signing remotely from New Delhi, India where the Embassy of Japan covering Bhutan is based.

According to a joint press release, the project “Innovation for a Smarter, Greener and More Resilient 21st Century Bhutan” is worth more than US$ 1.9 M out of which more than US$ 1.5 M is programmable budget. It is part of a global UNDP Project geared towards COVID-19 Response and Recovery, and Bhutan is one of the 11 countries in the Asia Pacific, and 29 globally, selected for the funding. The project contributes to UN Bhutan’s joint system response framework to support the national COVID-19 recovery and response.

The project, which will be implemented over the next nine months, will support the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) in its coronavirus response and recovery efforts by strengthening the country’s health systems and addressing socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.

Under the health systems support, one of the focus areas will be on enhancing access to healthcare services through digital disruption. UNDP will partner with the Ministry of Health to introduce innovative solutions, such as mobile cardiotocography, in select hospitals. These will help take healthcare services closer to the people, particularly expectant mothers living in far-flung corners of the country. Ensuring safer and more efficient medical waste management is another area of support under the health systems support. The project will support the procurement and establishment of incinerators to manage hazardous waste, capacity development of medical waste handlers and explore partnerships with the private sector.

The socio-economic response is the other area of support. Technical support will be provided to strengthen the government’s macro-economic framework for policy impact analyses, while also providing support to improve the Cottage and Small Industries (CSIs) through a value chain analysis of essential products and identifying appropriate business solutions.

Since COVID-19 has impacted the livelihoods of many with the poor and vulnerable households hit the hardest, the project will provide livelihood and upskilling and reskilling opportunities to the vulnerable populations. In addition to the 14 vulnerable groups identified by the country’s 2016 Vulnerability Baseline Assessment, the pandemic has impacted CSIs, the self-employed, individuals with limited coping mechanisms, women and youth. Providing timely support to these populations is imperative to ensure they do not fall back or deeper into poverty.

The support to the socio-economic response will include building a sustainable innovation eco-system with a focus on capacity development of the country’s workforce in line with the demands and opportunities of the 21st century. It will provide technical support and guidance to the establishment of the Bhutan Innovation Hub (BIH) and in identifying a strategic direction for the country’s innovation eco-system, which will contribute towards building a future-ready Bhutan. The support is timely given the country’s growing appetite for technology transfer and innovation.

Renewable energy is another area of support. Bhutan’s potential to diversify energy solutions is high and multi-fold with opportunities to create green jobs along various value chains. The project will be supporting the establishment of a 200KW solar farm at Rubesa in Wangdue Phodrang in partnership with the Department of Renewable Energy and Bhutan Power Corporation Limited. This will help the country“green” the future by promoting synergies with Bhutan’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) target of promoting sustainable, clean renewable energy generation and its goal to remain carbon negative.

According to the release, the GNHC thanked the GoJ for the timely support which will fast track the RGoB’s rebuilding efforts towards a new normal.

UNDP Resident Representative Azusa Kubota thanked GNHC for the critical role it played in coordinating with other government agencies and finalising the proposal in a short period of time, as well as the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for its support.

“The project is designed to respond to the immediate crisis. At the same time, it has a strong focus on recovery and beyond recovery from the current crisis, with future-looking interventions in areas such as the introduction of digital solutions to the health service delivery, diversification of energy sources for greener recovery and support to the innovation eco-system. COVID-19 is a devastating humanitarian and development crisis, but we must turn this crisis into opportunities to think and act differently for our future,” UNDP Resident Representative Azusa Kubota said.

“With support from GNHC and partners, we believe that this project will bring transformational and catalytic changes to the socio-economic fabric of the country, thus contributing to a smarter, greener and more resilient 21st Century Bhutan.”

The project aligns with the UN Secretary-General Socio-Economic Framework and the UNDP COVID-19 response and recovery offer 2.0.

The UN Secretary-General Socio-Economic Framework sets out the contours of an integrated support package towards the long-term goal of helping countries recover along with a sustainable, gender-equal, and carbon-neutral recovery trajectory. UNDP has been chosen as the technical lead for this framework and commits to implementing with quality, speed and scale on the ground.

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