Harmful use of alcohol still a concern: National Council

The harmful use of alcohol has been a national concern for decades. The issue was raised for deliberation by the National Council’s (NC) Good Governance Commit­tee (GGC) on January 7 at the on-going 22nd session of NC.

In the interim report on the review of harmful use of alcohol in the country pre­sented by GGC, it presented that Bhutan is believed to have the highest per capita drinking prevalence in the South East Asia regions of the World Health Organiza­tion member countries. The report stated, “the per capita consumption of pure alcohol for Bhutanese was estimat­ed at 8.47 in 2010 for 15 years and above, which is more than the global consumption of 6.2 liters.”

It was learnt in the ses­sion that the excessive use of alcohol in the country is an alarming issue being a threat to Gross National Happiness despite the gov­ernment’s continuous coun­ter measures. The alcohol related problems have been triggering various problems including health, social and economic.

The report stated that al­cohol liver disease has been a leading cause of death in the country with a total of 514 deaths between 2015 and 2017. It also stated that the alcohol is among the top kill­er disease as per the health records.

Apart from health, alcohol has been a significant cause of domestic violence. Re­spect, Educate , Nurture, and Empower Women (RENEW) recorded a total of 70 percent of the 3261 cases of domestic violence between 2004 and 2017 which were committed under the influence of alco­hol.

According to Global based student Health Survey re­port 2016, 24.2 percent of the respondents between 13 to 17 years of age are known to have abused alcohol, of which 10.1 percent are found to have involved in anti-so­cial activities.

The interim report also stated that approximately 7 percent of road accidents in the country are attributed to drink driving. The report showed that Royal Bhutan Police recorded 8627 traffic violation cases related to al­cohol from 2013 to July 2018.

Not only that, the country also incurred economic bur­den due to alcohol consump­tions amounting to around 5 bn while the economic re­turns was estimated to be at 1 bn according to the report. The health ministry spent about Nu 25 mn in 2015 and Nu. 27 mn in 2016 for the treatment of the patients with alcohol related diseases.

The preliminary findings presented in the session stat­ed that the factors affecting the excessive use of alcohol in the country are poor com­pliance with laws, weak coor­dination among implement­ing agencies, lack of family support, availability and af­fordability, cultural belief and perception and avail­ability of more leisure hours.

With concern, GGC pro­posed the house to conduct more consultation meet­ings with the stakeholders to understand the issue, make field visits to different Dzongkhags and institutions to meet the Local Govern­ment (LG) officials, parents and students to study the cause, and ascertain its key determinants.

The house discussed about having to explore some of the policy interven­tions and reviewing certain regulations including the zero tolerance on Friday, dry day on Tuesday, and the tim­ings for the sale of alcohol among others.

Lhuentse’s NC member, Tempa Dorji talked about the need to review bar tim­ings. He added, “The sale of alcohol is between 1 pm to 10 pm but the alcohols are sold before 1 pm. Moreover discotheque and drayangs also sell alcohol after 10 pm”. He concluded that the mat­ter be studied and reviewed according to convenience of the businesses, so that there would not be issues of non – compliance with the current law.

The members also dis­cussed about providing more awareness programs to the people, making laws more stringent and provid­ing more alternative options including recreational facili­ties.

Few NC members suggest­ed on having a recent report since the interim report pre­sented was based on studies conducted a decade before. Gasa’s NC member, Dorji Khandu said, “The reports in my hands are of 2010 and of 2012, if we could get the lat­est report that would be more useful.” He added that the latest report could be help­ful in reviewing the issue and strategizing the counter measures.

The committee will pres­ent the full review findings and will be deliberated in the 23rd session of NC this sum­mer.


By Kinley Wangchuk

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