While the country is prospering and the economy in good shape, the government is aware that there is still a large portion of Bhutanese who have to deal with poverty on a daily basis, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said during the Meet The Press session last week.

The government is looking to reduce multidimensional poverty from 12.7 to five percent by the end of its term next year. The income poverty rate was reduced from 23 percent to 12 percent in 2012 during the 10th Plan. According to the Poverty Analysis Report, 12.7 percent of the population, which includes 11,000 households, is categorised as poor.

“We have a comprehensive approach led by His Majesty The King and with this approach we hope that we can eradicate poverty from our country,” Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay said.

Eradicating poverty, he added, is an objective of the entire country and not just the government. “We must work hand in hand to eradicate poverty from our country and to ensure that no person in Bhutan is left behind as our country grows from strength to strength.”

Lyonchoen pointed out that the country is pursuing several ways to address the situation.

The first and the most important intervention is provided by His Majesty The King. The rehabilitation programme has so far covered 245 households with 1,175 people,  who either didn’t have land or had unproductive land.

The people were resettled in Khenedang and Borangmo in Pemagatshel,  Nye in Lhuentse, Dawathang in Samdrupjongkhar, and Bebji in Haa. The people were given 656 acres of developed land for cultivation. Under this programme, people are also provided with shelter, CGI roofs, irrigation, seeds, and income-generating activities. “This is a comprehensive intervention provided by His Majesty The King,” Lyonchoen said.

His Majesty The King also provides kidu whenever there is a disaster so that the victims will have access to money to address their immediate difficulties. It is in such difficult times that people borrow money and end up caught in a poverty trap, Lyonchoen explained. “So this kidu goes a long way in ensuring the victims don’t get caught in a poverty trap.”

For those who get caught in the poverty trap, His Majesty The King provides kidu in two forms: the Gyalpoi Tozey and the monthly kidu for the destitute.

For those who cannot afford to send their children to school despite education being free, His Majesty The King grants kidu by adopting these children as Gyalpoi Tozeys.

For those who are old, destitute, disabled, and don’t have anyone to look after them, His Majesty The King provides a monthly stipend.

“The land rehabilitation programme, the Gyalpoi Tozey and the monthly kidu to the destitute will go a long way in alleviating our people from the scourge of poverty,” Lyonchoen said.

In addition to that His Majesty The King has provided land grants or kidu to as many as 132,000 people across the country. Around 136,000 acres has been granted as kidu.

The government has allocated Nu 150 million for the Rural Economic Advancement Programme (REAP) for the 11,000 poor households in the 11th Plan. The project covers 75 villages in 18 dzongkhags.

The idea is that through this programme, the country is able to reach out to as many people as possible who are living below the poverty line in the country, Lyonchoen said.

The local governments implement a component of the programme, and another component is implemented by the Tarayana Foundation, a civil society organisation, in 41 villages. The households are provided farm machinery along with sheds in which to store the machinery. At least 167 jersey cows, materials to build dairy sheds, 67km of electric fencing, and 20km of barbed wire, among others, has also been provided.

Lyonchoen said that there has been a comprehensive package to address the needs of the poor living in the 75 villages.

“The problem is with the poor many a times the poorest of the poor escape our attention, not just the government but the whole of society,” he said. “The poorest of the poor are those who don’t even know how to ask for help.”

The Gross National Happiness Commission conducted a survey to map the poorest of the poor which consisted of 3,154 households. This number was later revised to 2,678 households. Many of these households are beneficiaries of the REAP programme, and many of them are receiving His Majesty The King’s kidu.

“Now we know house by house with names and why they’re poor,” Lyonchoen said. He said the government is at a stage where it might be able to consider individualised plans for these households.

GNHC has proposed some strategic intervention options such as ensuring housing, drinking water, and that children go to school, among others. Lyonchoen said the government is considering  these interventions.

Tshering Palden