Saturday, May 30, 2020

Thank God For COVID-19 II

Bhutan is now faced with an extraordinary situation – a situation of surplus production in the face of contracted market! Now, what the dang hell do I mean by this? Let me explain it simply:

As a measure of mitigation against an extended lock-down by India, we began importing billions worth of food items from India. Although necessary in the interim, it has nonetheless partially dried up the market for our famers and their produce.

Hundreds upon thousands of tourists are barred from entering the country – resulting in hundreds of hotels being shut down for lack of business. This has caused a severe decline in the country’s consumptive capacity for farm produces – including hunger and starvation among the stray canine population of the country.

There was an exodus of Indian construction laborers out of the country – to celebrate Holi – just before a COVID-19 active case was detected within the country. By necessity, the country went into semi-lockdown condition and barred the re-entry of these laborers, thereby reducing consumers by the tens of thousands. The farm produce market contracted further as a result.

The COVID-19 rendered tens of thousands jobless – causing decline in the Bhutanese people’s purchasing power as a whole. People feared shortages – in addition to running out of money to buy essentials. To counter that – they resorted to farming - to safe guard themselves from hunger and starvation and as a means to save money. This will eventually result in even further contraction in the farm produce market.

In the face of all that, the country is not prepared to handle a surge in farm production. To aggravate the situation further, we do not have cold storage and processing facilities, to absorb the excess production.

The only hope is that India will remain under locked-down condition for a while longer so that import of food from India will remain restricted. This way, food items that used to be imported can be substituted by local production. Under restricted conditions, there will be no Indian produces to compete with overpriced local productions. However, a price control mechanism may have to be introduced – to ensure that greedy farmers and middlemen do not over price local produces.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Thank God for COVID-19

The human race has a number of choices – in the manner how we choose to die:

Hunger and starvation – caused by shortage of food
Isolation                         – extended periods of lock-down
COVID-19                     – the dreaded virus that has gone pandemic.

Of the above three, I choose the last – I have a chance to survive COVID-19. I have no chance against the first two.

I have said this twice before – that the COVID-19 is God sent for Bhutan and that we must not allow this perfect crisis to go to waste.

I am truly encouraged to see that a large number of Bhutanese – both rural as well as urban dwellers are seizing the opportunity that has been thrust upon them. They are growing food and I suspect that this coming season will see Bhutan’s agricultural production going through the roof.

Fresh, organic and home-grown

Now this is something we had always aspired for – for the past 4 decades: food self-sufficiency. And the dreaded COVID-19 is going to deliver this dream. Unfortunately there is a flip side to this revolution that has every chance of upsetting the equilibrium: a situation where there is a reversal of role: consumers turning providers.

The urban centers have traditionally been the consumers of products and produces. Growers from far away places had thronged to urban centers to sell their produces. But now there is every likelihood that Bhutan’s urban dwellers may no longer be a dependable source of market for rural farm produces – because they are growing their own food. This could spell disaster for the newly invigorated farming community in the rural areas.

Thus there is an URGENT need for the government to plan how to keep the farmers encouraged and farming vigorously. We cannot allow this momentum to tapper off and die down. We need to come to the rescue of the farmers.

Few days back I spoke to one very senior official in the Agriculture Ministry about the emerging trend in the agriculture sector. He assured me that the Government will do “buy-back”. Buy-back???? Damn the miss-coined concept! Anyway I told him that is all fine – but where will you store what you buy-back? Why don’t you build a chain of cold storage facilities? He said – that is the plan. I said the farm produces will begin to hit the markets in the next 3-4 months. Thus this is not a time to plan – it is a time to DO IT!

I hope that the Ministry of Agriculture will begin to act and plan their preparedness in order that the newfound fervor among the farming community – both in the urban as well as in the rural areas, continue to stimulate and scintillate!

Being prepared is not merely dishing out money on buy-backs – but planning for marketing, storage, distribution, and most importantly – post harvest processing of excess production.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

What is Bhutan's Situation?

Hi .......... ,

Thank you for your prompt reply.

I know – the weirdest thing is that Americans are supposed to be the first world people – but they go and elect someone like Trump to lead them. It is frightful!!

Well, do not worry about getting here …. You will get here for sure  - eventually. The human race will overcome this one too --- as we have done many viruses over the centuries.

My view about Bhutan’s situation? Frankly, right now I am feeling a little nervous. Our rationality seems to have been totally hijacked by this frenzy to keep the virus at bay. We seem to have lost focus – I hope the government will do a retract and reorganize their thoughts soon.

What is currently happening is that we are so focused on keeping the virus at bay, that we do not seem to be preparing for an eventual community outbreak. My thinking is that WE CANNOT KEEP THE VIRUS AWAY FOR EVER. It is here to stay - thus we have to learn to live with it, and face it squarely.

What we have obviously failed to understand is that the current locked-down condition is NOT A FIGHT AGAINST THE VIRUS - but to contain it until our preparedness is in place - it is merely a game plan to GAIN SOME TIME to effectively tackle the eventual spread of the virus. This locked-down period should be used to upscale our medical facilities - to tackle the outbreak that will happen.

Lock-down cannot be perpetuated forever – or it will be the cause of our death, not the virus. The virus will only kill selectively – lock-down can kill en-mass.

We have to go with the assumption that the virus will hit us soon. As we bring back all the Bhutanese from the affected areas like the US and the Middle East, as strict as we are in our quarantine regime, few cases will eventually slip in – because the scanning and detection system is NOT 100% FULL PROOF. Some positive cases will eventually slip through undetected – and we will have community infection and spread. That is as certain as night and day!

Now this is where I think we have so far failed to comprehend – that community infection and spread is a foregone conclusion. Thus while we are totally focused on arresting the virus at the entry points with the zeal of a coyote, we do not hear of the government preparing to handle an outbreak.

We are not preparing for enough hospital beds. We are not preparing for enough trained doctors and nurses and other health workers to handle positive cases.

In my view, when the virus hits us, there will be thousands of cases – not merely hundreds.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Is This A Cause for Worry?

Until the end of last month, my Blog use to get visits from the Middle East - I am assuming they were Bhutanese - between 200 to 400 every day. Strangely, this entire month I have had not a single hit from the Middle Eastern Region.

I know that we have evacuated hundreds of Bhutanese from the Middle East in the past one month or so. However,  I also know that we still have few hundred of them in that part of the world - awaiting to be evacuated.

So why are they so inactive on the net?

Are they OK? Should this be a matter of concern for the Bhutanese authorities?

Friday, May 22, 2020

Again, and Again – For Our Men In Blue

Human activity around the world may have ground to a screeching halt – caused by the Almighty Nature’s DeSuup – the leveler labeled “COVID-19”. But we at the Rotary Club of Thimphu have seen frenetic activity amid all the confusion and misconceptions and the dread of sickness and death.

Yesterday at about 12 PM we handed over 38 units of Chabto Toilets to the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP). These toilets are ultimately destined to be installed in 38 of RBP’s Detention Centers across the country. These personal portable toilets are safe, odor-free and water efficient – they can be installed in bedrooms, small spaces, as well as locations in motion – such as prison vans. They are promoted by the Bhutan Toilet Organization (BTO) and the innovative shit pots are manufactured in Pasakha, BHUTAN. The BTO offered these toilets at a discounted price – in an effort to help the RBP and the Rotary Club of Thimphu during these difficult times.

Club President Rtn. Tsewang Rinzing and BTO CEO Chablop Passang Tshering hand over 38 units of Chabto toilets to the Chief of Police yesterday at the RBP HQ, Thimphu

The Rotary Club of Thimphu has also been successful in obtaining a sizeable grant funding to the tune of US$ 59,000.00 from the TRF – for purchase and installation of 2 small units (30 KGs each) of hospital waste incinerators - to process infected wastes emerging out of the quarantine centers, isolation centers and hospitals that treat coronavirus positive cases. But the mills of bureaucracy grind oh ever so slowly! and we are unable to move with the required speed and efficiency. However, we believe that it is a matter of time - we hope to get there and move on – to a bigger project that has been lined up – for the installation of a 100 KGs unit. But unless we successfully implement the current approved project, we dare not put our reputation on line - by proposing another project related to incinerators. But work on it is already afoot and international partners are being shamelessly wooed to render their support.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Bhutan-Nepal: Historical Connection

My ongoing research into historical facts about coinage in Bhutan has thrown up some seriously interesting revelations about which most of us remain clueless. Consider the following:

A little known history reveals that Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal visited Kathmandu in the year 1640 - during the reign of Dambar Shah (1633 – 1645). Kathmandu was then a Kingdom in itself. The Zhabdrung returned with 40 to 50 Gorkhali families, led by their leader Bisan Thapa Magar. It is written that the families were settled in places like Bebena and Bel-Nang in Thimphu valley.

Bebena, as we know today, is that brimming chockablock urban jungle below Dechen Phodrang lhakhang, bordering Samtenling - west of Embassy of India. But it is clear that the name of the place should not be Bebena. It should be Balbu-Nang.

In ancient times, Nepal was known as Bal-Yuel: wool country.

The other place where the Gorkhalese were settled is said to be called Bel-Nang. My enquiries with senior citizens around Thimphu revealed that this too is incorrect. One reliable source tells me that the name of the village is: Bekhu-Nang. Bekhu-Nang is a place below Semtokha Dzong, close to the GREF camp. This person tells me that the Gorkhalese would have been settled in Balbu-Nang and Bekhu-Nang because around that time the Zhabdrung had just completed the construction of Semtokha Dzong and he was working at rebuilding Dechen Phodrang Dzong.

The Zhabdrung would have brought the Gorkahlese from Patan, Nepal to take on the copper and silver smithy work - for the alter rooms of the two Dzongs. These Gorkhalese were artisans and some of the earliest statues in the country were said to have been crafted in Thimphu by these Ghorkhalese. The proximity of the two villages to the two Dzongs would, according to the source, explain why the Gorkhalese would have been settled in those two places.

It appears that this was not the first time Gorkhalese were brought to Bhutan as artisans. When Chari Monastery was constructed in 1620, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal is supposed to have employed skilled carpenters from Nepal. This ties in nicely with what Lam Kezang Chhoephel of APIC tells me - that the name Begana should be Balghar-Nang. Obviously the Gorkhalese brought in during 1620 for the construction of the monastery were settled at Balghar-Nang above the present day Guru Lhakhang, close to Chari Monastery.

There are some very interesting accounts that tell how close Bhutan and Nepal was during early times - but they are too lengthy to be included here - I will speak of them in my more detailed records of the history of coinage in Bhutan.

Another place that is perhaps wrongly named is: Metsina in Punakha. I am told the name should be: Mistri-Nang. Apparently the Fifth Mind Incarnation Zhabdrung Jigme Choegyal (1862-1904) brought in some Indian masons to carry out metal work at Talo Monastery. Mistri in Hindi means mason.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

In Response To A Concerned Reader

On 10.05.2020 one Anonymous reader left the following comment:

Yeshi sir, did you cross-check and verify your facts?

This comment was on my post: “Confusion: What is QR and What is Druk Trace

In response I would like to reply as follows:

After removing the contents of my post “What is QR and What is Druk Trace”, I got very busy – because our Club Members wanted to do something for the country – to battle the dreaded COVID-19. We decided that we would raise funds to supply hospital incinerators – to safely dispose off the waste generated at the Quarantine Centers, the Isolation Centers and the hospitals where the COVID-19 positive cases are treated. Please read my following post:

“Safe & Secure Disposal of Wastes from Hospitals/Quarantine/Isolation Zones”

It is not that our Club has not done our share. We had recently donated one Ventilator, which was followed up by a donation of 17 units of Oxygen Concentrators – both useful in the battle against the virus.

A decision was made by some select Members of the Club to work on donating hospital incinerators, on 4th May, 2020. From the morning of 5th May, I began the process of putting together the Grant application to the TRF. On the 8th May, I was ready to submit the Application. I uploaded the Application for approval and acceptance the same day - 8th May, 2020. The Rotary International District 3292 gave their acceptance and approval within hours of my submission of the request for authorization and acceptance. Same was the case with RID 3510 (Taiwan) and our International Partners RC Pingtung East, Taiwan – both of them also authorized and accepted the Application and thus the final GG Application was submitted to the TRF the same day I submitted – on 8th May, 2020!! On 10th May, the TRF approved US$ 59,000.00 grant for the purchase of the hospital incinerator that we had requested for, based on a request from the Ministry of Health.

The grant was approved within 3 days from the date of submission! A record of some sorts!! We are now waiting for the bureaucracy in the RGoB to get their acts together so that we can go ahead and start the process of acquiring the incinerator.

But in all this, I still hadn’t forgotten my concern about the way the DrukTrace was designed and how useful or inadequate it was/is. I still intend to be able to study it further as I get time. But right now I have no time – in addition to working on the incinerator Grant, I am also simultaneously working on the closure of another Grant project implemented in Bongo Gewong, Chhukha.

Upon the above comment by the Anonymous, yesterday afternoon I went to see and talk to a team member that designed the DrukTrace. I am happy and relieved to report that what I did was spot on. Nothing wrong with what I did – that is put my own money to print and distribute hard copies of QR Code for people to scan. The QR Code Team Member said that that is what they do too --- in the outlying areas, he said that the QR Codes are printed by the DeSuups (Thank God for these tireless legs in motion - clad in orange) and posted on home and shop doors. He thanked me for doing what I did – print and distribute to establishments that I frequent. I do not have the time to go into the details of my discussion with him but in short I offered the following suggestions:

The authorities should require the person registering for the DrukTrace to provide an alternate mobile number so that in the event the registered number is out of service, the person can be traced through this alternate number.

Make the QR Code universal and not location specific. This way the authorities can print and distribute the codes by the hundreds of thousands. This way lazy people, careless people, and unmindful people can get free prints of the Code. This will also help people who do not have the means or the skills to download and print hard copies of QR Codes.

Redesign the Application in such a way that it captures the coordinates of the place where the scanning took place – (something like: NL 25 deg 24’ 19”    EL 87deg  39’  28’’) instead of recording the location as Sangay Tshongkhang, Dechenchholing.  Obviously this will be useless for locations that are in motion - such as taxis and buses. Rapid tracing can happen only if you know the coordinates rather than spending time tracking down a place named Sangay Tshongkhang.

Lastly I requested the person that the government should make downloading and scanning of the QR Code MANDATORY! This is a national emergency and people should not get away by saying (one person actually did) that the government need not know who is visiting my shop or home.

If a home owner is not doing anything illegal, where is the problem in the government knowing, for a good cause, who has visited the place when and at what time?

There is a whole lot of misconception about scanning. Yesterday I had to go to the BNB – three times. The guard at the gate saw me come in for the second time and told me --- you already scanned that time so no need to scan. I told him no – I have to scan every time I enter the establishment since time of my visit is of essence, if a rapid tracing is called for. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

Safe & Secure Disposal of Wastes from Hospitals/Quarantine/Isolation Zones

Dear ……..

Greetings from Bhutan ... I hope you are well and keeping safe. For your own safety and that of your family, please practice physical distancing.

COVID-19 is ravaging the world. Bhutan has had 7 cases so far as of yesterday - fortunately all imported and detected upon arrival and quarantined/isolated. Most of them have recovered. Two were American citizens and they have recovered and are back home safely.

Something the Rotary Club of Thimphu's Members have been worried about is the emergence of a community infection - local COVID-19 case. Thus we are all working hard to keep that from happening.

Unfortunately, recently we discovered that while our King and the government are commandeering the issue very attentively and strictly, there have been some slips between the cup and the lip, by a number of agencies responsible to oversee, and arrange the safe disposal of municipalities’ garbage. Incidences of improper disposal of used materials from our quarantine/isolation facilities have been reported. This is a huge concern for the country and the people. As you may be aware, incorrect disposal of waste from the quarantine/isolation facilities can result in dangerous consequences. We have to assume that every item emerging out of the quarantine/isolation zones and hospitals where the positive cases are treated are potential threats. This means we have to protect the waste handlers as well, in addition to the fact that a separate protocol has to be adopted for waste collection and disposal from the quarantine/isolation zones.

As of now, the only safe method of disposing contaminated or infected material in our view is through incinerating the wastes generated at the quarantine/isolation zones and hospitals. Unfortunately, as of now Bhutan does not have a single incinerator to safely dispose off contaminated and toxic material and medical wastes.

Thus as a measure to ward off COVID-19 and safe disposal of contaminated/biologically hazardous material, we have requests from authorities for help in procuring incinerators that are environmentally safe to operate. We know of such affordable and safe incinerators that will do the job.

Therefore I write to ask you if the TRF would support our application for a Global Grant for purchase of incinerators. We will apply under "Fighting Disease and Disaster Response". If you think that our proposal has a chance of seeing the light of day, I will start to look for partner Clubs to partner with us on this critical item of need.

Please respond to me quickly so that I can start the preparatory work promptly.