Bhutan: A journey through 50 years of cooperation

17 at kurrichhu hydropwer plant. A part of the norway sponsored Power System Master Plan from the 90s..jpg
Visit to Kurichhu Hydro Power Plant.

The Norwegian Ambassador to Bhutan, Nils Ragnar Kamsvåg, visited Bhutan last week in order to celebrate 50 years of friendship and cooperation. The visit to Bhutan was a journey through our joint history, as the Ambassador travelled east through the country and visited several projects that have had Norwegian involvement throughout the years.

50 years ago, on February 25th 1967, the Norwegian missionary doctor Ms Edel Haugstad, together with a small group of Bhutanese workers and lepra patients waiting for treatment, laid down the foundation stone for Riserboo Hospital in eastern Bhutan. This day stands as the starting point for Bhutan-Norway cooperation and friendship. The work of the missionaries has since saved thousands of lives, contributed to eradicate lepra as a disease in Bhutan and has been a significant contributor to the foundation of Bhutan’s modern healthcare system. Since then the cooperation between Norway and Bhutan gradually broadened beyond the work of the missionaries, including initiatives concerning energy, environment, health, gender equality, forest conservation and industrial activities. In 1986, the diplomatic relationship between Bhutan and Norway was established.

The Ambassador's visit started in Thimphu, with a number of political meetings, including a meeting with the honourable Prime Minister H. E. Lyonchen Tshering Tobgay. One day in the capitol was also designated to annual meetings in the energy cooperation between Bhutan and Norway. The cooperation has operated for nearly three decades and along four main pillars; hydropower, geohazards, renewable energy and energy efficiency and capacity building. Results include 23 master degrees and postgraduate diplomas, 476 short term trainings, the Power System Master Plan, Regulation and guidelines on electricity, water and dam safety, a detailed feasibility study of the Thimphu-Wangdue tunnel, plans and strategies for renewable energy and energy efficiency, to mention a few.

Today, Bhutan has reached 100 % electrification and developed a strong capacity to manage their own hydropower resources in an optimized manner. This is impressive efforts and results, that Norway is honoured to have contributed to during these years. Due to remarkable achievements, the Norwegian bilateral contribution to Bhutan’s energy sector is now being phased out. Norwegian support will continue mainly through multilateral channels. During the visit, it was also announced that the Energy+ program will continue for additional two years.

The Ambassador hosted a reception in Thimphu in honour of our long-lasting cooperation. The Bhutanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, H. E. Lyonpo Damcho Dorji attended together with people that through the years have been involved in Bhutan-Norwegian cooperation. At the reception, minister Dorji and Ambassador Kamsvåg launched «Norwegian Energy Cooperation with Bhutan – A summary report.” The report is produced by Norad and gives insight into the long lasting energy cooperation, the results, achievements and lessons learned.

Find an electronic version of the report here.

In Thimphu, the Ambassador also officially opened the Norwegian VFS office in Bhutan. Now, Bhutanese nationals can apply for visa to Norway in Thimphu, instead of going to India. Hopefully, more Bhutanese will use this opportunity and visit Norway in the future.

After two hectic days in Thimphu, the delegation travelled by plane to Bumthang in central Bhutan and continued the journey east by road.

In Trongsa the Ambassador visited Mangde Chhu hydroelectric power plant. The feasibility study and environmental impact study of Mangde Chhu was sponsored by Norway in the 1990s. The power plant will be commissioned next year, with the production capacity of 720 MW. In Gyalpozhing, the ambassador visited Kurichhu, another hydroelectric power plant which was included in the Norwegian sponsored Power System Master Plan in the 90s and 2000s. Kurichhu delivers electricity to eastern Bhutan, and in addition exports the majority of its produce to India. Directors of both hydro power plants had received education in Norway as a part of the Bhutanese-Norwegian cooperation.

HRH Prince Dasho Jigme Dorji Wangchuck and HRH Princes Yeatso granted audience to the Ambassador in Gyalpozhing. Serving as the King’s representative in the east (as Gyaltshab), the royal couple shared their insights into the development challenges and opportunities for eastern Bhutan.

The journey continued to Muenseling School in Khaling, which is the school for the blind that was started by Norwegian missionaries in 1973. The school has meant a tremendous amount for the blind population in Bhutan, through attending the school they later have been able to attend government schools and universities and been able to get jobs and live independent life. Something that was unthinkable for the blind prior the school was established.

The last stop in Bhutan was the hospital in Riserboo – where it all started 50 years ago. Today there were 4 lepra patients at the hospital, all got infected by disease before 1997.

After crossing the border at Samdrup Jonkar, the delegation paid a visit to the Parkijuli Christian Hospital in Assam. It was here missionary doctor Ms Haugstad was working in the early 60s. She had seen numbers of Bhutanese lepra patients being carried for days through the challenging terrain of eastern Bhutan in order to get treatment at the clinic in Assam. It was from Parkijuli she wrote a letter to the advisor of the King of Bhutan, offering to open a clinic to fight Lepra in Bhutan, and it was here she received the go ahead from the Bhutanese authorities to start working in Eastern Bhutan. It was in Parkijuli the ground work for the thereafter long-lasting and strong relationship and cooperation between Bhutan and Norway started.

To see more photos from the trip, go to our Facebook album.

Visit to Riserboo Hospital.