As part of its policy to eradicate poverty in the 12th Plan, the government will identify target groups of poor and vulnerable people and implement need based interventions to increase their ability to earn income and improve their overall standard of living.

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said this during the deliberation on the 12th Plan in the National Assembly yesterday.

The foreign minister said that the government would provide assistance in various forms such as subsidised materials for construction of house to the target groups. “Also as promised during our election campaign, we will provide a job for each family that is poor,” Dr Tandi Dorji said.

The government also plans to implement specific pro-poor policy measures that will narrow the gap between rich and poor. During the 12th Plan, dzongkhags, gewogs and thromdes with high incidence of poverty will receive more resources than others.

One of the 12th Plan’s strategies is to increase the National Minimum Wage Rate for the national workforce.

Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said one of the measures to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality would be to establish Cottage and Small-scale Industries (CSIs). CSIs, he said, would help farmers by procuring raw materials from Bhutanese farmers.

However, the agriculture minister added that farmers needed to increase the quantity of production to a commercial level. “Development of the agriculture sector is the key to eradication of poverty,” he said.

The 12th Plan has identified poverty eradication and reduction of inequality as one of the 17 National Key Result Areas (NKRAs). The government aims to eradicate poverty not only by improving people’s living standard but also through improvements in the quality of health services and education.

According to the Bhutan Poverty Analysis Report (PAR) 2017, 9,424 households in the country are poor and 1,677 households are extremely poor.

There is also disparity in poverty levels among dzongkhags with poverty rates ranging from 0.3 percent to 33.3 percent.

Saying that poverty was one of the main causes of rural-urban migration and gungtongs, opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said that the government should strive to create jobs and make all public services available at the local level.

One of the issues rural dwellers are facing today, he said, was lack of construction materials such as timber and that timber should be available at a reasonable price. “We have to protect our environment. At the same time, we need to provide timber to our people,” he said, adding that only 0.35 percent of the timber that can be harvested is used today.

The causes of poverty, according to the 12th Plan document, are numerous extending beyond lack of income, and are self-reinforcing in nature. Shortage of labour due to an aging rural population, lack of education, lack of proper housing and poor sanitation facilities have been identified as some of the causes of rural poverty.

Today, 97 percent of rural households have access to electricity, and almost all households (99.5 percent) have access to improved water sources. About 92 percent of households have access to improved sanitation facilities, according to the 12th Plan document.

“Despite the progress, Bhutan is still confronted with the last-mile challenge of eradicating poverty in all its forms,” the 12th Plan document states.

One of the parameters for reducing inequality and eradicating poverty will be availability of improved health services for all at the dzongkhag level.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said, “Our priority is to provide quality and comprehensive health care services.” She said that patients had to go step by step from a BHU to a referral hospital to get a desired treatment.

The 12th Plan document states that the government will provide equitable access, well-equipped permanent mobile medical teams offering specialist services to unreached pockets and populations.

The government also plans to implement flagship programmes such as One Gewog One Product programme aimed at providing income-generating opportunities for enhancing livelihood of rural communities.

The House will continue deliberation on the 12th Plan today.

MB Subba