Jigmi Wangdi

It was Monday, 14th of May 1979. His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and then UNDP Administrator Bradford Morse inaugurated the UNDP Bhutan office, establishing it as UNDP’s 108th country office.

At the inauguration, the two leaders declared long-term goals for the partnership. His Majesty said, “Today, we are celebrating with great joy and happiness the inauguration of the office of the Resident Representative of the UNDP in Thimphu. On behalf of my people and government, and on my own behalf, I invite the distinguished guests from the UNDP to join me in my hopes and prayers that the close understanding and cooperation between the UNDP and Bhutan will grow ever stronger with the passage of time and that all UNDP projects will be successful and continue to benefit our people.”

UNDP Administrator Morse said his presence on that day reflected the importance that UNDP attached to its programmes in the least developed countries. “I am confident that, through the new UNDP office in Thimphu, the ties between the Royal Government and people of Bhutan, and UNDP would become closer and stronger,” Morse said. 

As envisioned by the two leaders—His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and UNDP Administrator, the Bhutan-UNDP partnership grew from strength to strength over the past five decades.

While the UNDP office was inaugurated only in 1979, the partnership between Bhutan and UNDP started in 1973. That is barely two years after Bhutan became a member of the United Nations on September 21, 1971. Over fifty incredible years, the Royal Government and UNDP worked together for inclusive, resilient, and sustainable development, touching and changing the lives of people across the country.

On July 28, the government, led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade and UNDP commemorated this milestone. The event was attended by ministers, secretaries, senior government officials, development partners, representatives from civil society, and the private sector. It was a moment to honour the past and inspire the present to build a brighter future for Bhutan and her people.

UNDP Resident Representative Mohammad Younus expressed sincere thanks, appreciation and gratitude to Their Majesties and the Royal Government of Bhutan and her people for 50 incredible years of impactful partnership. He also thanked both national and external development partners, donors and everyone who contributed to the success of the Bhutan-UNDP partnership.

“Bhutan opened its borders to the outside world only in the 1960s. From one of the most remote, isolated countries in the world, Bhutan went on to achieve remarkable socio-economic progress while keeping its environment, culture and tradition intact. This is a balanced development feat only a few countries can boast of. As a UN agency that worked hand in hand with Bhutan since 1973, we are extremely honoured and humbled to be part of Bhutan’s incredible development success story.”

Younus said the 50th partnership anniversary is not only a time to celebrate past achievements but also to work towards deepening our partnership to help Bhutan and her people achieve an even better future—a developed Bhutan—as envisioned by His Majesty. “As Bhutan, guided by His Majesty, undergoes a series of reforms, and prepares to launch the 13th Plan and graduate from the Least Developed Country status, while still recovering from the socio-economic impact of Covid-19, UNDP will remain supportive as ever of Bhutan’s development.”

The long-standing partnership between UNDP and the Royal Government began with the development of the country’s human resources, tourism, and energy sectors.

Over the years, the partnership grew and diversified involving varied areas, including poverty reduction, environment and biodiversity conservation, climate change and disaster risk reduction. Enhancing good governance and promoting an inclusive society formed the core of the Bhutan-UNDP partnership in the area of governance. Collaborations helped promote innovation, digital transformation, youth engagement and empowerment, gender equality and disability inclusion among others, all in line with the priorities of the government.

Key partnership milestones from the last five decades include support towards the launch of Bhutan’s first airline, Drukair, in 1983, the transformation of Kuensel into a national newspaper in 1986, the development of Bhutan’s first Telecommunications Master Plan in 1991, and establishment of the Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation (BTFEC) in 1996, and the Anti-Corruption Commission in 2006.

From 2008 to 2013, Bhutan and UNDP worked together with partners to drain Thorthomi glacial lake, preventing a potentially devastating flood.  The mammoth task carried out through the country’s first climate adaptation project marked the start of a series of collaborations in the climate space.

Together, Bhutan and UNDP produced four National Human Development Reports, contributing towards promoting human development.

Recent partnership milestones include the country’s first grid-tied, ground-mounted 180kW solar power plant in Wangdue Phodrang. The plant helped prove the viability of solar as an alternate renewable energy source as Bhutan works towards enhancing energy security in the face of climate change. The electric vehicle taxis are smoothing the path to clean transport, showcasing Bhutan’s commitment to turning its climate ambitions into concrete actions.

In response to the heightened need for agility and adaptiveness in governance—a lesson that the pandemic taught, the partnership continues to work on building strategic foresight capabilities in the public sector for anticipatory governance.

As Bhutan and UNDP continue to partner for an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future, it is faced with a world and Bhutan that is, in so many ways, different from what they were when the partnership began 50 years ago.

 “The challenges we face today are different and complex. The opportunities are vast and infinite. We need a new set of tools and solutions to address challenges and grasp opportunities. UNDP will continue to evolve to meet the emerging needs and priorities of Bhutan,” said UNDP Resident Representative  Younus.