The roof of a tourist guest house in upper Trashigang town was blown off and immigration staff quarters at Chazam partially damaged by a wind storm which hit Trashigang around 7 pm on April 22.
Power supply was also cut-off for about 16 hours as branches blown by the storm had fallen on the power transmission lines between Trashigang and Rangjung.
In Rangjung, about 17 kilometres from Trashigang town, the roof of the newly constructed building of the Rangjung higher secondary school was also blown away. Changmey primary school also reported damages to the classroom block and staff quarters.
Reports of damages in other parts of the dzongkhag are still coming in a dzongkhag administration official said.
Never has a sneeze sounded so frightening or a cough so foreboding. With the SARS outbreak the common cold, which was just a temporary nuisance in the past, is causing greater anxiety than it should.That is why the need to understand SARS in the right perspective.
There is no doubt that we should be concerned about this new disease that is currently an epidemic. This form of respiratory infection has created consternation around the world because it is potentially fatal, although the fatality rate is low; but it is perhaps more menacing because there is no medication against the virus.
New outbreaks in places like Canada and Singapore, where health control is extremely effective, and the changing pattern in the infection and deaths have added to the concern. For example, it seemed to spare children at one stage but more young people are reportedly being infected. Although the epidemic is losing steam in some places it is expected to peak elsewhere.
For the Bhutanese, it is also a sign of an increasingly globalised lifestyle. Some of the affected areas are common stomping grounds for Bhutanese officials and business people. And, with most of us glued to the television these days, the images of masked travellers and tight controls at airports have probably added to the worry.
One piece of advice we should heed is that, while we should be concerned because more than 150 deaths and infections in the thousands is a serious problem, we should understand the situation.
Bhutan is not a high risk area. The international traffic coming through is relatively slow and the government is taking drastic measures to monitor travellers. While it is probably true that some countries are covering up the real magnitude of the problem to protect their tourism or business interests the Bhutanese health ministry is placing tourists in quarantine even during one of two short peak seasons.
With the current level of activity, it is not possible for the government to conceal any cases. In fact, given the current policy, Bhutan will focus on the problem rather than cover it up.
According to the World Health Organisations experts, the sparsely populated terrain in Bhutan will also prevent the drastic outbreak of the epidemic that crowded cities have seen.
We can presume that Pharmaceutical companies are already rushing to find a cure. Medication at this stage of the epidemic will obviously be worth a fortune.
But it would be wrong to expect that SARS will disappear, even with significant medical accomplishments. It will stay with us as one of the thousands of diseases and medical conditions that we are already dealing with, many of them still without a cure. Once the epidemic stage is over, it will take its place on the long list of human health problems.
It will also change hospital procedures. Many hospitals are already taking precautions that are not convenient for patients. With health workers themselves at risk, general health care systems will probably see many changes.
SARS actually does not represent too drastic a change in the health problems that Bhutan and several other developing countries are facing. Respiratory infection is already the biggest killer in the kingdom. Our doctors are dealing with severe cases of pneumonia every day.
In the absence of medication against the virus itself, the treatment of acute pneumonia is not new to our health system. This includes intensive care units, with one just established in Paro. It is not a consolation but it is a fact that, in our condition, pneumonia represents a greater threat than SARS.
In other words, we need to be careful, but there is no cause for panic. At this stage, awareness is the only answer.
There is a limit to the best of health : disease is
always a near neighbor
Although rumours and gossip are generally kept outside mainstream communication channels, their impact can be exaggerated in a small society. For Bhutan, it is not necessary that we acknowledge and respond to every rumour that wafts across the Himalayan foothills. But it is interesting to hear some of them.According to reports in some newspapers in the region this past week, a Lama known as Nawang Jigme (Jigme Nawang in some papers) passed away on April 5 in a hospital in Vellore (the reports name different places), India. He is linked to Bhutan because his devotees believe that he was a reincarnation of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
The newspaper reports are also relevant to us because some of them carry a range of conspiracy theories that attempt to link the Bhutanese authorities with the death of the lama.
Although it was apparently widely known among his followers that he had been undergoing treatment for throat cancer for many months, one source seems to have convinced these newspapers that the lama was poisoned. While a death by poisoning could easily be detected by medical science, the stories, obviously, aim to stir doubts among what they consider an illiterate or semi literate readership.
It is revealing that the newspapers carrying these allegations are all Nepali newspapers, and not the more credible ones. Their sources are all supposedly self-styled politicians in exile. Government records in Bhutan indicate that many of them have criminal records.
Several months ago, political groups that function around the refugee camps in Jhapa, eastern Nepal, had quoted the lama, as the Zhabdrung, condemning the Bhutanese leadership. It is significant that one of these leaders, himself a Hindu, told Indian newspapers this week that they had approached the lama to support the anti-Bhutan movement.
Those stories were carried by the same newspapers that are now reporting the conspiracy theory.
Apart from the fact that it is difficult to believe any genuine Bhutanese lama would make statements to create problems in Bhutan, there are several other wild angles to the conspiracy theories.
One is the effort to connect the impact of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal on 17th century Bhutan with a Buddhist lama living outside the country today, although Buddhist lamas enjoy a unique position in our society. Secondly, the connection between a Buddhist lama and the people in the camps in Jhapa calls for some imagination, given the bilateral talks and other processes currently underway to seek a genuine solution to that problem.
All in all, we can look at the issue this way. It is comforting to know that the anti Bhutan movement is resorting to desperate measures to gain credibility.
Rumour travels faster, but it dont stay put as long as truth
With the public not holding back their views on the power tariff and power officials launching a media offensive to justify the January tariff raise, we cannot but agree that it is, overall, a healthy debate.In fact, it might be the most visible but it is certainly not the only service organisation to be questioned on its responsibilities to society. A number of service organisations, including government owned corporations, have faced similar pressure. Yesterday it was drinking water, today it is power, tomorrow it might be internet services. The sustainability of services, including health and education, will also continue to be an issue.
In todays changing political scenario, it is inevitable that the voice of the consumer becomes louder. Although the Bhutanese consumer has always had the opportunity to complain the stage is becoming more public.
Not that we are asking the service organisations to go anywhere beyond their specific mandates. While it is true that many of our necessities, even comforts, are subsidised, such is the magnanimity of our national policy that the government is not supposed to be dishing out favours, it is there to serve the people.
Besides, transparency, accountability, and efficiency have been promised to us by the government.
Transparency means that new initiatives, including tariffs and incentives for staff, are shared with the public. While politicians might hesitate to risk public wrath in future, for fear of losing votes, service organisations need to develop check and balance as a routine.
Efficiency could mean cutting down waste in terms of time, equipment, and manpower. It means making tough decisions at the risk of losing popularity. And it could mean a system where a person is rewarded for productivity rather than seniority.
Accountability has been somewhat of a non issue in the past since it is rare that salary earners in the public sector are made answerable for their actions. The new trends emerging might mean that we might eventually be answerable, in the case of service organisations, to those who are paying for the services.
The pressure applies both ways. Consumers to pay and service providers to deliver.
The Bhutan Power Corporation has a dilemma. Even as it grapples with the economics of corporatisation, which is not an easy task in the Bhutanese service environment, it faces a barrage of complaints from Bhutanese power consumers infuriated by the recent hike in power tariff.The range of allegations against the management represents a spate of discomforting negative publicity. But most of them can be largely ignored.
The sustainability of the corporation is a far greater issue. In the process of corporatisation, BPC has inherited a somewhat inefficient government body with the mandate to become financially sustainable. That leaves the corporation no choice but to try and raise its estimated Nu 468 million budget from a small consumer base. At the same time its investments have to be extremely high given the rugged terrain and scattered population. And it has the noble but financially crippling goal of lighting up rural Bhutan.
Indignant BPC officials point out that, to cap it all, the power tariff in Bhutan is the lowest in the world.
But the quandary is real. With the power bills having doubled since January, the average consumer is paying a significant proportion of his or her income. Many consumers are comparing their power bills with their house rents, an unaffordable proportion by any standard.
There is another important issue. We, as consumers, have been thoroughly convinced of the hydro power potential in Bhutan. The government having brilliantly tapped this source of national revenue, we have come to expect a lot from the successes that are already visible in the mega projects like Chukha. Tala, moving on schedule just down the road, promises even more.
Over the last few years we have also come to believe that, given the high consumption of firewood and escalating cost of other fuels, hydro power is the answer to Bhutans energy needs. That is why Druk Air cannot guarantee the delivery of any luggage because of the rice cookers, electric, heaters, television sets, and other electronic utilities sitting in Bangkok.
Despite its corporate mandate, BPC is largely seen as a government body so the Bhutanese mitshe (public) is looking to the zhung (government) once more for kidu. Of course, kidu in this case could stretch to new necessities like television sets, DVD players, refrigerators and radiators to name a few.
Todays scenario, therefore, needs to be gauged in a wider perspective.
Given the sheer disproportion in its potential earning capacity against the heavy investments needed, BPC will never be sustainable in the foreseeable future. Which means that it has to be subsidised.
This, in fact, is related to the issue of corporate governance that is already in debate. All public utilities are expensive in Bhutan because of the low consumer volume and high costs. And because corporations are also expected to bear social and political obligations, where do they draw the balance ?
On hindsight, BPC officials could be kicking themselves for the poor timing of the tariff raise, or revision, as they call it. We were hit in the middle of winter when our consumption is at its highest. BPC, like other Bhutanese organisations, was perhaps more earnest than public relations conscious, in itself a good thing, but an oversight that always draws flack.
However the issue, and the debate, reminds all of us of our obligations, be it the government, public sector corporations, or consumers.
BPC and our public sector corporations, not government bodies any more, will have to shed excess bulk, trim their staff, cut costs. Corruption, which is common knowledge particularly at the petty level, will have to be rooted out.
Meanwhile the consumers, in many ways a spoilt generation, have no choice but to reduce waste and sacrifice luxuries that we cannot afford. Statistics reveal that we are, reportedly, better paid than most others in our region. We have to appreciate that many aspects of our lives are already subsidised, to a greater degree than people in many countries.
But, as much as we agree with the need to pay our bills, the escalating cost of living in our towns is also very real. The pinch of the power bill is not just psychological.
We are, once again, looking for the middle path.
The electric age … establishes a global network that has much the character of our central nervous system.