Our drinking problem

Not funny

We have a drinking problem.

We reportedly consume 7.5 liters of alcohol per person per year. Much of that is served in the more than 3,000 licensed bars that we have. That works out to one bar for every 250 people. And that does not take into consideration the large-scale production, sale and consumption of home brewed alcohol throughout our country.

That’s why alcohol abuse is a leading cause of non-communicable diseases. That’s why alcohol-related diseases make up a whopping 27% of all hospital inpatients. That’s why they account for a staggering 58% of all inpatient mortality. That’s why alcohol was the top killer in 2010.

We have a drinking problem. And the government realizes it. So in order to discourage the habit, they recently increased taxes on alcohol.

Total taxes on beer produced domestically or imported from India have doubled from 50% to 100%

And total taxes on beer imported from other countries have increased from 150% to 200%

The increases in beer prices will, no doubt, discourage us from drinking beer. But that, ironically, may encourage us to drink more locally produced hard liquor.

Why? Because taxes on the more popular locally produced liquors have not gone up proportionately. In fact, taxes on Special Courier, Black Mountain Whisky and Changta Whisky have not increased at all – not even by 1%. And taxes on Rock Bee Brandy and Sonfy Liquor have only marginally increased by 10% and 15% respectively.

So expect our people to drink less beer, a beverage that generally has less than 6% of alcohol by volume. And expect our people to drink more whisky, brandy and Sonfy all of which typically contain about 40% of alcohol.

We have a drinking problem. And it’s about to get worse.

Thimphu’s lifestyle

In 2007 the Ministry of Health conducted a survey in Thimphu to assess the state of non-communicable diseases in the capital. The results showed that we live dangerously. For example:

  • One out of every five adults consumed tobacco – they either smoked or used smokeless tobacco.
  • One third of the adult population consumed alcohol regularly. One third of them were associated with hazardous drinking and binging.
  • Most adults did not exercise to meet minimum health requirement. More than three-fourths of adults did not get any exercise at all during their free time.
  • Two thirds of the adult population did not eat adequate fruits and vegetables.

The results also showed that our sedentary and indulgent lifestyles were already causing needless suffering. For instance:

  • One out of every ten adults was receiving treatment for hypertension. One fifth of the adult population had raised blood pressure.
  • One tenth of the adult population was either diabetic or suffered immediate risk of developing diabetes.
  • Over half of the adults were overweight.

That was the story back in 2007. I wonder how it would look like today. It’s time for another survey, the results of which will probably force us to take non-communicable diseases seriously.

But some data is already available. The following table, prepared by Dr Gampo Dorji of the Department of Public Health, shows a disturbing trend.

Talkin’ Takin

Takin care

Takin, reindeer, yak calf, takin calf, sheep’s head, donkey, deer, drey daza, goat, sheep, lamb face, blue sheep, foal, cow calf, shaw, black foal, jatsham, mitun, thra –bum.

The last Big Picture contest generated a rich variety of answers, including the right one, takin calf. “Karma S.” is our winner.

The takin mother and calf was photographed in the Motithang Takin Preserve, a 20-acre sprawling blue-pine forest that was established in the early 1970’s to accommodate a pair of young takins that was gifted to Bhutan during the coronation of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

The two takin thrived. And at one time, as many as 16 offspring lived together in the Motithang preserve. But five generations of inbreeding has reduced their current numbers to seven. Still, tourists and locals alike continue to flock to Motithang, to view Bhutan’s national animal, the curious and much loved dong gyem tsey, widely believed to be Lama Drukpa Kinley’s handiwork.

The Nature Conservation Division have recently taken over the Motithang preserve, and have already started expanding and improving the facility. And to improve the takin stock, they’ve started introducing a few takins from the wild.

First two female takins, both already pregnant, were introduced to the preserve. Both of them have given birth to healthy calves. Then two more calves, a male and a female, both abandoned by their herd, were bought in. And finally, just last week, an adult male takin was added.

All of them were caught along the Mochu’s lower valley, at Khauza, which are the takin’s winter grazing grounds. But the Bhutan Takin (B. taxicolor whitei) can be found in most parts of northern Bhutan – from Haa in the west, through the Jigme Dorji National Park to Bumthang in Central Bhutan. Experts suspect that they can also be found in the east.

For those of us who live in Thimphu, the easiest place to see takins, if we’re very lucky, is above Phajoding or in the Dodena forests.

Or we could simply visit the Motithang Takin Preserve.