From COVID-19 outbreaks to human resource constraints, recent years have seen the Royal Government of Bhutan grapple with a range of challenges as the country strives to achieve a more sustainable development path. Recognizing Bhutan’s continued vulnerability to natural hazards and climate change, the government has remained as committed as ever to its longstanding efforts to build disaster and climate resilience for the long term.

Front and center in those efforts has been the government’s drive, led by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport and the Ministry of Home Affairs, to strengthen Bhutan’s comprehensive policy and legislative framework for crisis preparedness and a resilient and green built environment. Drawing on technical and financial assistance from GFDRR and the World Bank, and in partnership with the EU-South Asia Capacity Building for Disaster Risk Management Program and the Japan–World Bank Program for Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Management in Developing Countries, Bhutan has achieved several key milestones in that framework. 

For starters, officials have drafted a construction bill and housing bill that will jointly provide an overarching legislative framework for the country’s resilient built environment. These efforts were made alongside revisions to the country’s national building regulations, designed to strengthen their enforcement and improve quality and safety standards for the construction of buildings in Bhutan. Key improvements made in the revisions include a centralized, online approval system for compliance by all engineered buildings; prohibitions on the use of construction materials with high global warming potential such as chlorofluorocarbons; and requirements that all technical drawings must address fire safety requirements. 

Furthermore, officials have drafted amendments to the Disaster Management Act of Bhutan, passed in 2013, which will strengthen the country’s disaster and emergency preparedness and response by integrating climate change impacts and pandemic management into the country’s principal disaster law. The drafting of amendments to the law was taken up in parallel with the development of the National Disaster Management Contingency Plan, which adopts a whole-of-government approach to disaster and emergency preparedness and response. 

At the same time, officials have developed a construction quality compliance mechanism (CQCM), which will serve as a framework for regulating and enforcing compliance with the country’s national building regulations across all types of infrastructure and engineered buildings in Bhutan. The CQCM defines the roles and responsibilities of public and private stakeholders in the construction sector. It also provides guidance on the formulation of a quality assurance and control framework, including stepwise processes, standard operating procedures, checklists, guidelines on sanctions for noncompliance with quality requirements by contractors and procuring agencies, and relevant rules and regulations. It is anticipated that there will be an important role for the Interim Engineering Council of Bhutan, which was established with support from GFDRR and the World Bank, in registering and certifying construction professionals based on technical qualification criteria. 

Bhutan’s remarkable progress on advancing this suite of reforms helped pave the way for the World Bank’s approval of $14.8 million in funding for the country under a Development Policy Financing (DPF) with Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Option (Cat DDO) package. The Cat DDO is a contingent line of credit providing immediate liquidity in the aftermath of a disaster or emergency while also supporting policy actions designed to strengthen a country’s disaster risk management capacity. The partnership between Bhutan, GFDRR, and the World Bank in sustaining and deepening reforms over the past decade is informing the preparation of a second Cat DDO operation. 

GFDRR and the World Bank will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Bhutan as it embarks on a comprehensive program for climate and disaster resilience. For instance, support is also being provided toward the National Center for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) in formulating the national hydromet policy, which will strengthen the institutional mandate and governance of the NCHM and enhance the quality of hydromet services.