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