Getting Grip on Poverty in Bhutan

Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country in South Asia, located at the eastern end of the Himalayas. It's a country with no traffic lights and the only one in South Asia that uses Gross National Happiness to measure quality of life. The kingdom has shown remarkable progress in its fight against poverty over the last decade, bringing it down from 31.7 percent in 2003 to 12 percent in 2012. Kuensel Online discusses a new government initiative to eliminate poverty.

Posted on 09/22/13
By ViewsWeek | Via Kuensel Online
Drukgyal Dzong was a fortress and monastery in the Paro valley in Bhutan built around 1650, but has been in ruins since a fire in 1951. (Photo by Simon Pascoe, Creative Commons License)
Picturesque Drukgyal Dzong was a fortress and monastery in the Paro valley in Bhutan built around 1650, but has been in ruins since a fire in 1951. Bhutan is one of a few places on earth that has never been colonized. (Photo by Simon Pascoe, Creative Commons License)

The new government will be addressing poverty in Bhutan with a different and a broader approach. This is a welcome initiative given that poverty reduction has been the central theme for the last many years and yet we still have a significant number of people under the poverty line.

Going by the 11th Plan report presented in the National Assembly, by the end of the Plan in 2018, we should have reduced poverty on a multidimensional way. This means we should have more people who not only have a better income, but also have better access to health, education and enjoy a decent living standard.

A traffic police officer standing idle at one of very few intersections in Nepal's capital city of Thimpu. (Photo by Anja Disseldorp, Creative Commons License)
A traffic police officer standing idle at one of very few intersections in Nepal’s capital city of Thimpu. (Photo by Anja Disseldorp, Creative Commons License)

The emphasis on poverty alleviation in the past Plans has reduced poverty from 31.7 percent in 2003 to 12 percent in 2012, which is a big achievement if compared with countries in our region. Despite the achievements, the new approach has found out that there are glaring disparities between dzongkhags (an administrative and judicial district). It also found, for instance, that Gasa (a district in northwestern Bhutan) which has a low poverty level was one of the multi-dimensionally poorest dzongkhags.

Therefore, as we kick off the 11th Plan, there are reasons to be positive as the new approach would address different facet of poverty. With the new government’s drive on “Wangtse Chhirpel” or decentralization of power, we should be able to see differences in the dzongkhags and gewogs (groups of villages). Gasa , Dagana, Samtse are still the poorest dzongkhags with more than 40 percent multi-dimensionally poor although emphasis on decentralization is not new.

A notable and an emerging concern, however,  is the growing urban poverty rate. Although urban poverty rate has gone down from 4.2 in 2012 to 1.8 in 2012, urban poor is becoming more visible by the day. Bhutan had incidences of urban poverty as early as 2002 and a study then pointed out that it could grow and proliferate.

While urban centers like Thimphu (the country’s capital) and Phuentsholing have better health and educational facilities, it is untrue to say all its inhabitants have a decent living standard. Factors like high volume of people coming to the urban centers in search of better lives, rapid urbanization and unemployment will aggravate the conditions. We have today, in the capital city, people living in inhuman conditions.

The high rural-urban migration, shortage and rapidly rising costs of developed land housing, overburdened urban infrastructure and educational institutions, could aggravate  urban poverty if not nipped in the bud.

The 11th Plan is sanctioned and as we wait to see its programs implemented, we could hope for a better Bhutan because we have a clear picture of what we expect at the end of the 11th Plan.

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