Development’s ‘poster child’ still has some way to go

MDG: Even though a few of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets may remain to be achieved after the MDG deadline, Bhutan has already become a ‘poster child’ for development.

With less than seven months remaining until the MDG deadline, Bhutan has met “almost all the goals” set by the United Nations, according to the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC).  The areas requiring attention are increasing the representation of women in parliament and the national decision making process, and improving skilled birth attendance.

“Though Bhutan took ambitious goals, overall, it has already achieved or is well on track to achieve all the MDGs,” Lhaba Tshering, officiating chief of the perspective planning division of GNHC said.

“We’ve surpassed most of the MDG targets.”

The MDGs are eight international development goals that all 193 United Nations (UN) member states agreed to achieve by this year at the special Millennium Summit in 2000.

Bhutan’s poverty rate today has halved in a decade, to less than 12 percent from 23 percent in 2007.  The target is to achieve 18.15 percent by September, which is the MDG deadline.  Since 1980, life expectancy has increased by 20 years and per capita income by 450 percent.

However, Lhaba Tshering also said while malnutrition indicators like underweight prevalence and wasting have improved, stunting prevalence of 33.5 percent still remains as a major public health issue.  In addition, anaemia prevalence in women and children is quite alarming at 54.8 percent and 80.6 percent respectively.

Bhutan has also been experiencing sporadic outbreaks of vitamin deficiencies, particularly vitamins B1 and B12 since 1998.  While hunger is not a problem in the country, eating the right diet is an issue.

To add to the challenges, he said, low GDP growth affected people’s livelihood and employment generation in the economy. “It’ll be a problem if the economy continues to grow slow, because there’ll be less investments and a low level of job creation,” he said.

The positive news is that, from the lowest growth rate of just two percent in the first year of the 11th FYP, GDP is projected to grow by 7.9 percent in the current fiscal year, and is expected to rise further during the next few years.  However, a heavy debt burden and an increasing current account deficit will continue to impede growth.

The government is also trying to maintain the fiscal deficit below three percent of GDP, below the internationally accepted rate of five percent.

The officiating chief highlighted that withdrawal of aid by donor agencies is also a challenge for the government to meet the MDG targets. “For instance, with the World Food Program phasing out its aid from our schools, the government has to step in,” he said.

The MDGs aim to reduce poverty incidences in the country to less than 15 percent of households earning less than USD 1.2 a day from 23.2 percent in 2007.

Lhaba Tshering said the severity of poverty depends on how we look at it. “Bhutan is doing fine compared with most countries in the world. We don’t have chronic poverty,” he said.

However, the government hopes that programmes, such as providing 100 units of free electricity in a month, and non-formal education, will contribute to prosperity.

With a firm commitment on MDGs, Bhutan devoted about 25 percent of its development budget to the social sector, with the aim of providing access to free basic education and free basic health services to all.

On youth unemployment, Lhaba Tshering said though youth unemployment is a challenge, it should not be a distracting factor in a country where there is a large youth population. “It should rather draw the government’s attention and be one of the primary focus areas,” he said.

The overall youth (15-24 years) unemployment rate is 9.6 percent and the female youth unemployment rate is 9.9 percent compared to 9.2% for males.  It is but only natural for the youth unemployment rate to be higher than the overall rate, yet still the current rate is considered higher than the desired result.

The country is to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people by this year.  Lhaba Tshering said 2.5 to 3 percent is considered a natural rate of unemployment by international standards.

To highlight the progress on a few more MDGs, net enrolment ratio has increased from 83.7 percent for primary education in 2008 to 96 percent in 2013.  The gross enrolment ratio has increased from 105.7 percent to 116 percent.  The target for both is 100 percent by 2015.

Progress towards promoting gender equality and empowerment of women as measured by enrollment of girls over the last six years has shown a steady increase.

Close to the target of 100 percent enrollment, girls today make up 98 percent of the total enrollment at the primary level and 108 percent at the secondary level.  Female students comprised 71 percent of the total students at the tertiary level in 2012.

 

MB Subba

 

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