YK Poudel


Bhutan’s overall poverty rate stands at 12.4 percent, signifying that 12 out of every 100 individuals belong to households with monthly per capita real expenditure below the upper-bound poverty line of Ngultrum 6,204.

This is according to the recently released Small Area Estimation (SAE) report released by the National Statistics Bureau (NSB) studied between April and June 2022.

The findings shed light on the nuanced distribution of poverty across dzongkhags and gewogs.

Delving deeper, the study reveals a concentration of poverty in rural areas, encompassing 87 percent of all impoverished individuals in the country.

The result shows that poverty and food poverty are mainly concentrated in rural areas—with 87 percent of all poor individuals in Bhutan residing in rural areas.

At the dzongkhag level, disparities persist, with Samtse leading with 15.1 percent of the total poor individuals, followed by Trashigang at 9.5 percent, and Mongar at 7.7 percent.

The gewog-level analysis highlights that Chukha, Mongar, and Samdrupjongkhar are grappling with higher poverty rates.

At a gewog level, poverty is highest in gewogs of Chukha, Mongar, and Samdrup Jongkhar. The five gewogs with the highest poverty headcount are Bardo, Phangkhar-Goshing, Kengkhar, Shingkhar, and Silambi. In contrast, poverty is lowest in Punakha town followed by Chang, Maedwang-Khasadrapchu town, Barp-Lobaysa town, Darkarla-Ge-nyen.

Thimphu and Punakha, in contrast, have one of the lowest poverty rates, displaying rates below two percent. These variations underscore the complex socioeconomic dynamics at play.

The report’s three key insights emphasise the correlation between high poverty in mountainous dzongkhags bordering India, lower rates in central dzongkhags and those bordering China, and substantial intra-dzongkhag variations.

Chhukha, Zhemgang, and Samtse are identified as having the highest number of poor gewogs.

Crucially, the report underscores the significance of localised poverty data for effective policy planning.

The new national poverty line, set at Nu 6,204 per person per month at 2022 prices, reflects a commitment to addressing the specific needs of Bhutan’s diverse regions.

Drawing on the Bhutan Living Standards Survey (BLSS), a recurring national survey since 2003, the report highlights the disparities between rural and urban areas, and among dzongkhags.

This data is pivotal for identifying vulnerable groups and tracking progress in poverty reduction.

The call for enhanced data at local administrative levels echoes throughout the report. The lack thereof is identified as a hindrance to effective poverty reduction policy planning.

The report asserts that detailed information at lower administrative levels can plug leaks, making poverty reduction programs more cost-effective and efficient.

The SAE report not only quantifies Bhutan’s poverty landscape but also emphasises the necessity of granular data for targeted and impactful poverty reduction policies.

As Bhutan charts its course towards sustainable development, these insights will play a pivotal role in shaping inclusive and effective strategies.