Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Messenger of Catastrophe

I am currently bedridden - with cough and body ache.

Yesterday evening as I was feeling useless lying in bed, my friend from Chhukha – Sangey Thinley, EDO of Chhukha Dzongkhag sent me a WhatsApp message saying that the near-extinct White-bellied Heron has been sighted near the Sewerage Tanks in Babesa. I replied that it could not be – that the bird must be a Grey Heron that I had sighted in the area about 3 years back.

But even as I lolled in the bed, the thought that it could be quite possible that the bird might be a White-bellied Heron, kept nagging at me. I am aware that Babesa is way out of the range of White-bellied Herons – traditionally, the birds live and feed around 600 -1,000 ft. lower than Babesa’s altitude. But the advent of climate change has caused weird things to come to pass – I recall that a pair of Black-necked Cranes was seen in Gelephu, a few years back.

I just had to confirm - so I got out of bed and headed for Babesa. When I reached there, a bunch of birders were already gathered there and were observing the bird. And it was true – the bird was indeed the rare White-bellied Heron.

A fuzzy image of the White-bellied Heron sighted at Babesa, shot with a mobile phone mounted on a scope - yesterday 29:10:2019 at 05:29PM

Please read more about the connection between Bhutan and White-bellied Herons at the following:

Frankly, it is not surprising that the bird is found outside its range. We humans have screwed up our environmental integrity big time and we are not even sorry for it. We keep aggravating the situation even further, even while being fully aware of the consequences of our actions.

Do you want to get off your high horse and consider for a moment the state of Thimphu’s air quality? What do you want to bet that it is at a dangerously harmful level? Do you want to consider the state of the water quality of Wangchu and Paachu? Would you dare wager that it is almost at a toxic level?

The Druk Phuensum Tshokpa party had the balls to ban the import of vehicles few years back – a very bad move – politically. But politics was furthest from their minds – they had the good of the country and the environment in their hearts when they took that very unpopular decision. And the party suffered for it.

Soon after, the People's Democratic Party came to power and reversed the decision. The result was that during their tenure Bhutan came to be ranked as among the highest in the world – in terms of vehicle ownership. The population of vehicles grew to 1 for every 8 Bhutanese, resulting in deteriorating air quality and punishing traffic congestion.

And we still shamelessly declare that we are carbon negative.

I wish people would realize that an improved environment is the only answer – that it is the only way to resuscitate life that is slowly ebbing away, through ignorance and false pride.

The incidences of White-bellied Heron being found in Thimphu and Black-necked Cranes in Gelephu are indications of the imminent madness that will consume humanity. We human beings need to reorient our thinking or we will richly deserve the coming catastrophe that is looming large before us.

Friday, October 25, 2019

When Karma and Destiny Collide

In mid 2016 the Rotary Club of Thimphu was notified that the Rotary International District 3292 would hold its 2017 Annual District Conference in Thimphu. As the only Club in the host country and as the head of the Club Administration in my capacity as the Club’s Secretary, I had to take on the responsibility of making the arrangements for the Conference, which would be attended by upwards of a thousand participants from across the glob. The Conference was announced during the 2016 Rotary International Convention in Seoul, South Korea. Arrangements began in right earnest. Registration to the Conference poured in by the hundreds, from Nepal and fourteen other countries.

Then mid way, the District abruptly announced that it is not possible to hold the Conference in Thimphu. Logistical challenges were quoted as the reason for the cancellation. I did not buy that for a moment. The entire logistical arrangements were being handled by the Rotary Club of Thimphu – then why would the District be challenged on its account? But the District remained adamant that the Conference could not happen in Bhutan.

We were in a fix! The Club had created an on-line payment system through the Bank of Bhutan and a total in excess of Ngultrums 17 million was already received in Registration Fees, cost of lodgings, meals, conveyance, air tickets etc.

Having to refund all that would bankrupt the Club, in bank transfer charges and deduction of commissions by the bank, for handling on-line payment system. Something had to be done. But the District 3292 was unwilling to consider the fact that we would lose hundred of thousands of Ngultrums.

But I am an unputdownable kind of a person – I am not one to give up that easily!!

I came up with the idea that we could hold a Club level Conference, but with international participation, comprised of close to 200 participants who had already registered and paid up. My proposal was heartily supported by other Club Members. Thus I sent out mails to all the registrants – all 160 of them spread across 14 countries - informing them of the cancellation of the District Conference – but that we were still willing to hold the Conference - provided they were willing to stand by their expression of interest to come to Bhutan for the Conference. They were informed that the Conference would be a Club level Conference but with international participation. Happily 99.99% registrants said that they would stand by their commitment to come. There was only one cancellation - from Australia.

Thus the Conference was successfully held during February of 2017. It saw a total of 175 participants, including 15 from Bhutan. The countries that were represented were: Bhutan, Brunei, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Switzerland and USA. Malaysia had the highest contingent - with 99 participants which is more than 50% of the overall total!

But this is not about the success of the Conference – it is about what happens when Destiny collides with Karma. It is about a potentially disastrous journey that began in utter frustration – but  was turned into an event of great meaning and benefit. It is about the partnership that was struck – a partnership that endures – 3 years since it was first established – a partnership between the Rotary Club of Thimphu and Rotarians from Malaysia.

During the Conference one of the Speakers was a Malaysian Rotarian and Vice Chairman of Disaster Aid Malaysia - Rtn. K K Looi, then a Member of the Rotary Club of Utara Subang Jaya. He spoke on something that fascinated me immensely – a gravity activated water filtration system called “SkyHydrant” manufactured by SkyJuice Foundation of Australia. He was talking of a fascinating piece of equipment that I instantly saw was ideal for Bhutan’s type of geographical setting. That Conference talk lead me to establish relationship with Rotarians from Malaysia, including an introduction to Disaster Aid Australia, Melbourne, courtesy of Rotarian K K Looi. Within months four SkyHydrant Filters arrived Bhutan (how that came about is even more interesting – a story to be told another day) – which resulted in an initiative called “BHUTAN2020” launched during 2017 Rotary International Convention in Toronto, Canada. Under this initiative, Dollar One Million worth of SkyHydrant Water Filters would be installed by Disaster Aid Australia and the Rotary Club of Thimphu, in all of Bhutan’s Central Schools across the country, by the end of 2020. As of now we have installed 42 of these filters. Two more are due to be installed on the 13th and 14th of November, 2019.

The Malaysian connection does not end here – they became major donors to the construction of 95 pour-flush toilets in Bongo Gewog of Chhukha District. Currently a Global Grant project worth US$ 51,000++ in the agriculture sector is at varying stages of implementation, once again in Bongo Gewog. This is all happening with funding from Rotary Clubs and Districts in Malaysia, in collaboration with the Rotary Foundation. The Rotary Clubs in Malaysia is not only the biggest donors to communities in Bongo Gewog – they are the ONLY NGO donors thus far that is bringing change and meaning in the lives of a number of communities in Chhukha District.

Today on 25th October, 2019 the principal sponsoring Club of Malaysia – Rotary Club of Metro Kuala Lumpur celebrates its 25th year of Charter. In a show of appreciation and gratitude, our Club President and the District Governor (Dzongdag) of Bhutan’s Chhukha District travelled to Kuala Lumpur – to participate in the celebrations. The following Plaque is being presented to the Club: 

Plaque of Appreciation

You may notice that in the Plaque is embedded the beautiful Silver Coin Commemorating the Royal Wedding of their Majesties the King and Queen of Bhutan. My choice of the Commemorative Coin is significant because the presence of our Club President and the District Governor of Chhukha District during the Club’s moment of celebrations is a kind of commemoration of the bond that was established between the Rotarians of Malaysia and the people of Chhukha District. The presentation of the Plaque is also a demonstration of our Club’s sense of gratitude to a comity of people who are selfless in their giving and serving. The following Rotary Theme Logo tells the rest of the story.

The Rotary’s Theme Logo for Rotary Year 2019 - 2020

Thursday, October 3, 2019

The God Still Gets Dumped

It has taken the government 9 long years to do something about the dumping of the toxic statues of the God Vishwakarma into our river systems. I started making noise about the issue in September of 2010. Since then I have written again and again on the issue of the environmental impact of the practice of dumping the statues of the divine architect into our rivers. Please read about them at the following:

It is amazing - the government takes 9 years to act and when they finally do, they decide to take on the burden of cleaning up the pollutants. I am told that over 200 toxic statues have been dumped at the Memelakha dump yard by the Thimphu Thromde. Is that a good job?

The statue of the architect of Gods being dumped into the Thimchhu

According to the RMA, Nu.28.00 billion was loaned for construction of buildings during the year 2018. Currently close to 400 buildings are at differing stages of construction in Thimphu alone. If that is the case, then what happened to the unaccounted 200 odd Vishwakarma statues? Add to that number over a hundred statutes imported by the vehicle workshop owners, saw millers and other metal working establishments? Do you want to take a guess?

The level of complacency can be judged from the fact that the notification from the Forestry Department disallowing dumping of the statues into the river came out one day ahead of the Puja day. Thankfully, there seems to have been some level of monitoring – because half of the statues were prevented from being dumped into the rivers.

How difficult is it to solve this problem? Years back I had reported about tens of thousands of beer bottles being dumped into the belly of the earth in rural Bhutan – nothing has been done about that either. Bhutanese contractors and homeowners and vehicle workshop owners happily fund the conduct of the Vishwakarma Puja in their premises – but they are unwilling to put a little effort into making their merry making into something responsible and environmental friendly.

Will Bhutanese ever grow up to be responsible citizens? I doubt it. As I said in one of my earlier posts, this is a country filled with unthinking people. It is so sad – there is so much we can achieve – and yet no one is willing to work at achieving anything.