Talking to the future does not require a rare gift. We need only listen to the many voices that are growing louder by the day to feel the wind of change blowing and the nation’s pulse quicken. It is exciting, almost exhilarating, to be able to discern the range of possibilities and opportunities awaiting us all. It is, at the same time, deeply worrying.
Are we keeping pace with the speed of change, however? Or, are we vastly overwhelmed already by the many challenges that developments have brought to our doorstep?
Some might argue that taking a pratfall on a hard concrete is only natural considering the velocity of change we are faced with today. But then, there are others who harbour a different view of the reality, that having started late on the development journey we have the privilege of learning from the mistakes others made, and that things are not well in our hands this day because we failed to pick some critical lessons along the way.
Waking up from a deep slumber meant rushing to catch up with the rest. And we knew that was not going to be easy. In a world that is fast shrinking due to rapid advancement in the areas of technology and innovation, challenges ahead will be more than just daunting for Bhutan.
Much of Bhutan’s future difficulties, however, will largely be the extension of current problems; only the magnitude of the challenges will have grown which will exert heavy pressure on the nation’s limited resources. This rude awakening calls us to pause and take stock of the challenges so that we are not overpowered and crippled by our inaction.
In our race to keep step with change, we are pushing—inadvertently—some sections of our population to the fringes of our society. While the statistics may say one thing, the reality is beginning to rear its head quite the other way. Urban poverty is growing with youth unemployment rising year after year. With agriculture failing due to factors like increasing rural to urban migration, human-wildlife conflict, and lack of irrigation water rural poverty is also on the rise. Waste is a problem that threatens to explode and overpower us. Some of our pristine forests are already littered with hazardous waste from imported goods. Even as we are a water-rich country, urban Bhutan is drying.
As bigger population centres grow, these realities will, unfortunately, be the theme of our development narrative. But if we can bring ourselves to look and talk to the future, all is not lost yet. Innovative and kinetic minds are eager to play their part. Most of the startup ideas are about tackling these growing issues. The government must recognise this urge and support the novel initiatives, particularly from the nation’s young people, to address the mounting challenges. And that means creating conducive environment for the new and innovative ideas to prosper and flourish which in the long run will also fuel private sector growth.
In our hands today are challenges galore to contend with and we may already be losing the benefit of time.