The tiny Kingdom of Bhutan can manage to disperse COVID-19, but its crippling economic blow can not be escaped.
To avoid the pandemic, the government of Bhutan acted rapidly, introducing aggressive steps during the early phases of the crisis. It shut its borders, including India’s southern border, shut down schools, developed homework for most government offices, provided social-distance directives, and demanded business to shut down by 7 p.m. It extended a two-week quarantine to three weeks last month.
The measure worked mostly: only 47 cases have been reported to date-mostly migrants or students returning from abroad-and no deaths. There was no transmission to the population either.
Naturally, this has had a harsh effect on the Bhutanese economy, with tourism contributing 9 percent of the gross domestic product and offering Bhutanese youth the most significant employment opportunity. Similar policies have caused a decline in tourism worldwide.
However, if any can be said to be the silver lining of coronavirus, this global slowdown led to clear skies, less noise, and a rejuvenating biodiversity-stuff Bhutan has always had with its forward-looking approach to the climate. The rest of the world needs to know from Bhutan now.
Its conservation policies may help avoid habitat losses and biodiversity that establish pre-conditions for deadly viruses and diseases like COVID-19.
Bhutan’s Gross National philosophy of happiness, which values the environment, culture, and social well-being over GDP, has made it the world’s only carbon-negative country. The 2008 constitution stipulates that each Bhutanese is the trustee of the natural resources and environment of the Kingdom and mandates that 60% of its territory be forested; the Kingdom has exceeded that target, with more than 70% coverage.
More than 5 National Parks, four wildlife sanctuaries, a strict nature reserve, and eight biological or ecological corridors currently cover more than 50% of the country’s territory. There are over 11,000 flora and fauna in these areas, including 103 tigers and 96 snow leopards. Of the over 200 mammal species identified here, 27 are on the list of endangered species.
All government policies and projects undergo the Gross National Happiness screening tool to sustain this incredible ecosystem. It sets objectives and indicators that are tracked and evaluated to measure the conditions contributing to people, the country, and the planet’s happiness and well-being. The screening tool has 33 indicators that assess the nation’s welfare by measuring the achievements of one person in each sign.
While governments around the world are pumping considerable resources into the start of scarce economies, the problem is how to resist the temptation of returning to unsustainable consumption and high carbon emissions, which affect countries such as Bhutan that play their part in keeping green and clean.
The pandemic teaches us new ways of functioning, gives us insights into sustainable economic development, and discloses possibilities that countless summits and rounds of negotiations have not accomplished. Fiscal stimulus packages will also include investment in low-carbon technologies; encourage sustainable tourism and farming, and provide transport incentives and small and medium-sized enterprises for the use of renewable energy.
Before now, the global discussion concentrated on striking a balance between life-saving and job-saving. Instead of making compromises, however, can we find responses in different ways, such as Bhutan? COVID-19 recovery is calculated by the ‘old standard’ metrics – GDP and stock market bounceback.
While in Bhutan, it strives to balance economic development with the philosophy of GNH – inclusiveness, sustainability, and well-being. While it shows how linked we are, during those periods of social unrest, COVID-19 validates these principles and demonstrates that crises can be balanced with a new enlightened development paradigm.
Check out the Recovery Townhall 13th Ed.: Dorji Dhradhul, Director General, Tourism Council of Bhutan