The poverty analysis report found out that 80,614 Bhutanese are poor or living below the poverty line of Nu 6,204 per person per month. At 12.4 percent, the poverty rate is a cause of concern.

It is high and comes at a time when the country is said to be making rapid progress to graduate from the club of least developed countries to a middle-income level country by the end of this year. Although the criteria for graduation are Gross National Income per capita, Human Assets Index and Economic Vulnerability Index – meeting at least two of the thresholds in two consecutive triennial reviews, poverty is included among the last mile challenges identified with education and health.

Rapid socio-economic development in the past decades has contributed to poverty reduction with the World Bank even considering Bhutan as a development success story. We may not be challenged by extreme poverty, but the slowdown in the economy, high inflation and cost of living are becoming a growing concern.

The poverty line of Nu 6,204 was derived by adding estimated food and non-food requirements of Nu 2,852 and Nu 3,352 respectively. Poverty rate is also higher among Bhutanese in rural areas.

However, judged by the money spent on both food and non-food items, we can safely surmise that Bhutanese in urban areas or the salaried who earn twice or thrice the poverty line are living hand to mouth if not poor. Bhutan has become so expensive that those visiting home from abroad carrying convertible currency find everything in Bhutan expensive.

While we are still recovering from the impact of Covid-19 pandemic, the uncertainties caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, rise in fuel price and disruption of the global supply chain puts import-dependent countries like ours at a greater risk. Living in Thimphu or any other urban areas have become unsustainable. Unregulated cost of housing, price of commodities, many agree is making even the salaried live on borrowings. It is also the main reason many are looking for opportunities abroad even if they have a well-paid job here.

There have to be interventions. The prices of food and non-food items may be determined by market forces, but we cannot wash our hands off and wait for the market price to come down on its own and do nothing.

That is where policy interventions come in. Regulating the price of goods and services, for instance, may not make one richer. But it could ease the burden. If meat and fish are luxury or expensive, there are, for instance, not many vegetables that cost lower than Nu 100 a kilogram.  Many complain of the ever-increasing house rent as some pay as much as 50 percent of their monthly salary in house rent. And there are other increasing costs that eat into the fixed monthly income.