Bhutan is expected to sign an agreement with the United Nations that will allow swift delivery of international relief and easy entry and transit of emergency teams in this highly disaster-prone nation by lowering customs barriers and simplifying procedures.
The first 72 hours are the most critical in responding to emergencies and saving lives, says Rajan Gengaje, U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs regional disaster response adviser. But customs regulations in many countries often delay the delivery of aid in those crucial hours. In drought-hit Somalia, for instance, food aid to victims was reportedly stuck in customs because of delayed clearance permissions.
For Bhutan in particular, strict entry regulations (the country issues only 1,600 tourist visas per year) and the country’s current state of infrastructure, coupled with its mountainous terrain, make delivery of international emergency aid especially challenging. This is despite the country’s high vulnerability to natural disasters such as earthquakes, forest fires and glacier lake floods. In 2009, for instance, a 6.1 magnitude earthquake destroyed more than 500 homes, schools and temples.
The Model Customs Facilitation Agreement, which was developed by OCHA and the World Customs Organization, includes recommended measures to expedite customs clearance procedures, including simplified documentation and inspection procedures, the temporary or permanent waiving of duties and taxes on imports, as well as clearance arrangements outside official working hours and locations.
When Bhutan signs the agreement in September, it will become only the second South Asian country to accede to the agreement, after Nepal.
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