The Australian government yesterday gave AUD 400,000 (about Nu 19.4 million) to promote the rights of people with disability and AUD  120,000 (Nu 5.8 million) to support the national school-feeding programme in the country.

Australian ambassador to Bhutan, Harinder Sidhu, who handed over the cheques to the UN resident coordinator in Bhutan, Gerald Daly, and WFP’s national programme officer, Dungkar Drukpa, said UN agencies have been critical in building the Australia-Bhutan partnership.

She said she learnt about the rights of people with disabilities in Bhutan and the challenges in this field while interacting with UN officials last year. “This year I have chosen to focus on the disability programmes in Bhutan and India.”

The ambassador said she hopes the investment will help advance progress towards ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in Bhutan.

Gerald Daly said that the AUD 400,000 is a joint collaboration by UNDP, UNICEF and WHO in Bhutan and it will leverage funding from the UNPRPD to advance the rights of persons with disability in Bhutan. “Australia is one of the primary international partners supporting the global UNPRPD.”

He said that while Bhutan’s philosophy of Gross National Happiness embodies a strong commitment to realise equal rights for all, including people with disabilities, the country has not yet ratified the CRPD and is yet to develop an adequate policy, institutional or legislative framework for people with disabilities to realise their equal rights. “But they are working on it.”

The project is timely, he said, given the encouraging developments underway on advancing the rights of people with disabilities in the country. “There is the political will to ratify the CRPD. An assessment on the ratification of the CRPD is in progress. “A national policy for persons with disability is being drafted.”

The project will be implemented from November 2017 to November 2020.

Gerald Daly said that Australia has been an important partner in the WFP school feeding in Bhutan since 1998 and the AUD  120,000 will allow WFP to feed about 12,000 students for a full month during the 2018 school year.

Ambassador Harinder Sidhu said that school feeding programmes have great impacts, not only in terms of nutrition but also in terms of social protection and education outcomes.

WFP Bhutan’s head, Piet Vochten, in a press release, said that even after the government has taken over the entire school feeding programme, WFP remains committed to supporting the government and people throughout the 12th Plan. “The office is sure that Australia will support us in this regard.”

Tashi Dema and Nima