The Population and Housing Census of Bhutan 2017 reports, released recently, reveal that life in rural Bhutan, has improved in the past 12 years.

However, the percent of population living in rural areas dropped from 69.1 percent 12 years ago to 62.2 percent.

Many villages were connected with motorable roads, piped drinking water, and better access to health and education facilities, among others.

Disability has remained mostly a rural phenomenon according to PHCB 2017 report.

The census determined that 2.1 percent of the population or 15,567 persons are disabled. Of that, 12,512 or 2.8 percent lived in rural parts of the country. At the national level, it has dropped from 21,894 persons or 3.4 percent of the country’s total population in 2005.

“The disability prevalence rate increases with increase in age, but the rate of increase is higher in rural areas,” the report states. Further, the prevalence rate in rural areas was higher than urban areas across all dzongkhags.

There were also more persons with multiple disabilities living in rural (4,487) than in urban (901) areas. The top cause for disabilities was reported to be disease or illness.

More than 84 percent of the urban dwellers were literate against 63.6 percent in rural areas. Of the 406,729 rural residents above the age of six, 148,018 were illiterate. The figure is 39,450 out of 248,386 people in urban places. Both the places showed more male literate than female. The literacy rate in 2005 was 59.9 percent, while in rural areas the literacy rate was 52.1 percent.

Gender disparity in literacy has dropped from 20.4 percent in 2005 to 14.2 percent last year. Similarly, disparity between urban and rural has reduced from 23.8 percent to 20.5 percent in 2017.

Most women in rural areas were found to give birth between the age of 20 and 24 years, while most women in urban areas delay until 25-29 years. The total fertility rate (the average number of children a woman would bear during her entire reproductive life) is also higher in rural (1.8) than in urban (1.7).

The child survival rate and the death rates are also higher in rural areas.

The census also showed that there were more economically inactive people, such as students, elderly, retired, sick, and housewives, in the rural areas. Labour force participation in the rural areas is higher than urban places also indicating unemployment is an urban phenomenon. However, rural areas reported 1.3 percent unemployment rate.

The country has 98.6 percent access to improved drinking water but 29,973 households across the country did not have reliable drinking water. About 1.3 percent of households in rural areas were drinking water from well, springs, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and dam. About 253 households drank rainwater.

Of the 10,048 households who reported not having sufficient food to eat, 8.1 percent were in rural areas. Samtse with 1,447 has the highest number of households that suffered food insufficiency in the past year.

Close to 8,000 (7,969) households in rural areas had roofs made of thatch, bamboo, shingles, or tarpaulin sheets. There were 1,141 households who had to walk more than six hours to reach the nearest road head, according to the report.

The population on the census day May 30 was 735, 553, however 8,408 were tourists. So the report used 7257,145 as the basis for the reports.

The census used the definition of urban used by urban development and engineering services department and included four thromdes, 18 dzongkhag towns and 42 other local towns. There were 161,392 persons living in the four thromdes, of which 84,210 were male.

In terms of migration, most people had moved from rural to urban. About 22 percent of the people had migrated from rural to urban areas. Besides that 18 percent had also moved from rural to rural. In 2005, 32.7 percent of the population born in Bhutan migrated between dzongkhags.

Tshering Palden