Rinzin Wangchuk 

The government of Japan will diversify its area of support to help Bhutan recover from the economic damage caused by the pandemic.

Talking to Kuensel in an online interview, Director General of the Department of Southeast and Southwest Asian Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Takehiro Kano, said that the government of Japan will support Bhutan to respond to  Covid-19 and recover the Bhutanese economy and achieve sustainable development in Bhutan.

DG Takehiro Kano

Japan’s  assistance today are mostly concentrated  in key sectors such as roads, bridges and agriculture. “Tackling the Covid-19, getting out of Covid-19 and economic recovery in Bhutan would be our immediate support,” Takehiro Kano said. “We have a long standing history of Japan’s support to Bhutan in the agriculture sector that could be further upgraded. Based on those traditional ties we can see more opportunities to expand our cooperation with Bhutan, particularly in the area of post Covid-19,” he said.

This year marks the 70th exchange year between Japan and South West Asia including Bhutan.  “So, taking account of the momentum we would like to explore wide areas of cooperation between Japan and Bhutan,” DG Takehiro Kano said. “Tourism is another area that we may pursue for cooperation.”

Japan provided equipment such as the portable ultrasound scanners, SUV-type ambulances and some medical equipment to help strengthen the public health and medical system in Bhutan during the Covid-19 pandemic. Japan has also provided assistance to Bhutan related to Covid-19 through the combination of three categories – provision of health and medical equipment as bilateral official development assistance (ODA),  provision of assistance through international organisations and provision of assistance through JICA’s technical cooperation.

For the provision of health and medical equipment, a grant aid project worth 300 million Japanese Yen is being implemented.  Portable ultrasound scanners and 12 SUV-type ambulances were already handed over to the Ministry of Health in early January this year. A Japanese Embassy official said that mobile X-ray equipment has also already left Japan and is scheduled to arrive in Bhutan soon.

In terms of assistance through international organisations, an emergency grant to support the development of cold chains of vaccines is being implemented in collaboration with UNICEF. Facilities like walk-in cold rooms, walk-in freezer rooms, and cold boxes for transporting vaccines will be provided.

Another support for infection prevention, approximately USD 2.5 million, including the provision of medical equipment and protective clothing and capacity building, is also being provided, according to Japanese officials.

For technical assistance by JICA, a project to strengthen the health service delivery system will be implemented.

The government of Japan has designated the year 2022 as “Japan-Southwest Asia Exchange Year” with the aim of taking Japan’s relations with the countries of Southwest Asia to new heights. “This initiative will also help strengthen  the friendship and cooperation between Japan and Bhutan,” DG Takehiro Kano said.