Bhutan not assessed for inclusive growth

Lack of data prevented UNESCAP from making the evaluation

Report: Bhutan performance on inclusive growth, a concept that explains how economic growth translates into improving people’s well being could not be assessed for lack of data.

Inclusive growth is a concept that advances equitable opportunities in terms of access to markets, resources, and an unbiased regulatory environment during economic growth, with benefits incurred by every section of society.  Its ultimate emphasis is on improving the living standards of the people.

A report the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) released yesterday has an assessment of some 16 countries for inclusive growth from 1990 to 2012.

However, Bhutan’s inclusiveness  was not even evaluated becasue it has no data to reveal an annual change in greenhouse gas emission or annual change in forest cover, among others.

Economic affairs officer for UNESCAP, Vatcharin Sirimaneetham, said, practically, Bhutan was doing better than most countries in the region in terms of inclusive growth. “But in absence of data we couldn’t assess the inclusive growth,” he said.

This was the case with several countries and he said that, should the data date back to the ‘80s, only five or so countries would have provided them.

However, Centre for Bhutan Studies’ & GNH Research president, Dasho Karma Ura, who launched the report, said, in case of the selected variables for a certain year that could generate cross-country comparisons, Bhutan’s performance was shown sporadically in many of the parameters.

“Overall, Bhutan could score very well on all the variables,” he said.  For instance, extreme poverty had been nearly eradicated; gini coefficient was 0.416 in 2003 and 0.352 in 2007.  Ratio of female to male labour force participation has improved to 96.2 percent from 51.1 percent in 2001.

Although inequality remained stable, he said, what had been not measured was asset, especially household land ownership. “Such gini coefficient can be lower and decreasing than income gini coefficient because of poverty focused land distribution by His Majesty the King.”

But radical changes must be brought in some of the measures for inequality between the top quintile and the bottom has not decreased.

Unemployment rate, he said, was 2.1 in 2012 and increased to 2.9 in 2013. “These numbers will be considered full-employment state in any countries , as China, South Korea or Hongkong. But the Bhutanese numbers are deceptive.”

He said the current  method and definition of unemploymentwas suitable for industrialised nations, where there was clear demarcation of being employed or unemployed, along the lines of being regularly paid or unpaid.

Agriculture absorbs below five percent of labour in industrialised countries, whereas it forms almost a majority in Bhutan. “But our agriculture labour isn’t full time; there’s huge underemployment.”

The report also stated that at least half of the rural residents in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan still lack access to electricity.  Assuming a typographical error, Dasho Karma Ura said Bhutan’s rural electricity coverage in 2012 was 88.6 percent.  However, if solar and small generators are included, the coverage was to 92 percent.

Annual change in greenhouse gas emissions was unknown but, he said, Bhutan was a remover of carbon rather than an emitter as per an estimation of 2000. “Since the main emitter is the agriculture sector, reduction in agriculture acreage and livestock activities would reduce GHG emission.”

Forest coverage is quoted at a constant figure of 72 percent in spite of forest fires.  Forest fire ranks among the top causes of damage to Bhutan’s forests.

Meanwhile, one of the recommendations in the ESCAP survey is to strengthen social protection programmes. UN resident coordinator in Bhutan, Christina Carlson, said, comprehensive social protection strategies and safety nets were crucial in reducing vulnerability and strengthening resilience of local communities to face shocks better.

Dr Shamshad Akhtar, UN under-secretary-general and ESCAP executive secretary, in a video message, urged the countries to go beyond just focusing on inequality of income and instead promote equality of opportunities.

By Tshering Dorji

 

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