In 1989, the Kingdom of Bhutan selected Austria as its official development partner. The reason for this was Austria's expertise in energy supply and tourism as well as the geographical similarities between the Alpine republic and the Himalayan kingdom. The guiding principle of the cooperation was "Leave No One Behind", in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an aspect that is particularly important in the mountains.

34 years later, in December 2023, Bhutan has made the transition from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income country. Austria has thus successfully fulfilled its mission and ended its official development cooperation at the end of 2023 with the closure of its office in the capital Thimphu.

Austria and Bhutan: a success story hydropower: Austria supported Bhutan in the construction of four run-of-river power plants, for example. The electricity generated is not only used for the country's own consumption, but is also sold to neighboring India. In turn, the revenue flows into the Bhutanese healthcare system and public education, both of which are free of charge for the people of Bhutan.

Video tip: Rivers of opportunity about the construction of the power plants

Thanks to the new power plants, 2,800 households in the most remote regions of the country have also been connected to the electricity grid. This includes around 900 households in the Phobjikha Valley, which is the winter home of the rare black-necked cranes and was therefore long considered inaccessible to electricity. With Austrian support, the power cables were laid underground - an enormous challenge at around 3000 meters above sea level and therefore never before used in Bhutan. With the electricity, tourism in the valley is also growing, while the black-necked cranes can continue to fly and hibernate undisturbed.

Video tip: Power to the people about the electrification of the Phobjikha Valley tourism: Austrian expertise was also used to establish the first Bhutanese tourism college. The final examinations at the school, which has an attached training hotel, are held jointly with the Klessheim Tourism School. To date, 500 students have successfully completed their training, 97 percent of whom found employment within a very short time.

Video tip: Recipes for success about the Royal Institute of Tourism and Hospitality the area of inclusion: Another focus of Austrian Development Cooperation was to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities. In order to achieve this, Austria has promoted the barrier-free design of courts, provided schools with special learning equipment for pupils with visual impairments and financially supported civil society organizations that advocate for children with disabilities.

Video tip: Levelling the playing field on educational opportunities for children and young people with disabilities

Austrian help with democratization
Bhutan has also undergone major changes at a political level in recent decades. Since 2008, the kingdom has been a constitutional monarchy; until then, the king ruled absolutistically. The first constitution was adopted, which guarantees the separation of powers, the separation of state and religion as well as fundamental rights and freedoms.

Austria has supported the democratization process since 2009 in the area of good governance, including by financing the training of judges and the construction of six district courts or the establishment of the first forensic laboratory in Bhutan.

Video tip: Together for justice on Austria's contribution to democratization

The Austria-Bhutan partnership is changing - but is here to stay
Even after the end of official development cooperation, Austria will continue to be a reliable partner for Bhutan. At the state level, this begins with the Austrian Honorary Consulate, which was opened in Thimphu in 2023. Austria is also committed to ensuring that the European Union continues its development cooperation with Bhutan.

Partnerships also remain in place at an institutional level, such as the cooperation between the Klessheim Tourism School and the Royal Institute for Tourism and Hospitality or the Faculty of Law at the University of Vienna and the Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law. New partnerships further deepen the connection between the two countries: for example, the University of Innsbruck is cooperating with the Jigme Namgyel Engineering College of the Royal University of Bhutan to construct more sustainable buildings made of wood in Bhutan.

Bhutan would also like to further expand cooperation in the private sector, particularly in the areas of renewable energy, waste management and tourism. 

Although the chapter of Austrian Development Cooperation with Bhutan is closed, the close relations between the two countries at institutional, economic and human level will continue. 

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