Choki Wangmo

Bhutan’s rapid economic growth has helped improve the country’s Human Development Index (HDI) from 0.512 to 0.616 (2005-2018). However, the country’s rank did not change from last year’s—134th out of 189 countries.

HDI ranks all countries in the world by the level of human development.

HDI value for Bhutan is 0.617—among the medium development category—along with India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh from South Asia, and 36 other countries.

The benefits of the growth are unequally distributed with 90 percent of the poor living in rural communities without access to quality facilities in the country.

The challenge with inequality in Bhutan is not that people were being left behind within their communities, but that whole communities were experiencing different growth trajectories across the country, UNDP country representative, Azusa Kubota said.

The 2019 (HDR) calls for concerted action and the need to look beyond income and average to close the inequality gap faced by different countries across the world.

Themed “Inequalities in the 21st century – beyond income, beyond average, beyond today”, the report was launched in Thimphu on December 12.

Azusa Kubota, said that the HDR captured the attention of the world because it offered a different way of measuring human progress—beyond income.

“As new generation of inequalities is opening-up around education, technology, and climate change, if unchecked could open a new divide,” she said.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that there was a need to close the gap between Bhutan’s actions and words.

“We talk about plastic waste and going organic but do we buy local produce and take care of our own waste?” Lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen said, while closing the inequality gap between the urban and rural communities was important, there was a need to consider the quality of service provided. “It is time our services are effective, efficient, and timely.”

To address the aforementioned gaps between the urban and rural communities, use of disaggregated data is necessary for in-depth look at trends across different population groups.

The Resident Coordinator of the United Nations, Gerald Daly said, Leaving No One Behind (SDG 2030) depended on data.

The disaggregated data includes breaking data down by gender and age at the dzongkhag and gewog levels. It would also help the government in financial disbursements at the local governance level, targeting the vulnerable groups.

Globally, debates on inequalities were found to be over-simplified, derived from incomplete data and missing information. Due to lack of in-depth assessment, vulnerable groups are left out.

Similarly, the data based on national averages miss the opportunities to identify specific challenges.

During a panel discussion held at the launch, an official from the Gross National Commission Secretariat said that when going beyond to reduce inequalities, considering the rural lot, vulnerable and elderly groups for inclusive and equal human development was important.

However, Tarayana Foundation’s Chime P. Wangdi said that poverty in Bhutan had rural face but people in rural areas did not see themselves underprivileged because of intact natural environment even there was no cash flow.

She said agribusiness was the way forward to close the gap between the rural and urban communities by adding values to the products and making technology available to them.

The report, which ranks the countries on their average achievement in key dimensions of human development, such as life expectancy, education, and per capita income concluded that although remarkable progress in reducing extreme deprivations was made, gaps remained unacceptably wide for a range of capabilities.

“The depths of inequality should be assessed beyond income. Besides income inequality, there are other key elements such as health, education, human dignity and fundamental rights,” Azusa Kubota said.

Member of the Parliament, officials from international organisations, among others attended the launch.