Part 2 of 2

In the first part, Bhutan’s performance in the five variables of economic opportunities of the 15 that composed the ESCAP’s inclusive index was discussed. ESCAP’s 2015 survey did not include the figures for Bhutan. This article attempts to do that.

5 Variables or Indicators of Social Opportunities

Variable 6. Ratio of female (26,298) to male (24,530) secondary enrolment in 2012 was 107%.

Variable 7. Secondary school enrolment was 93% in 2012. It rose to 96% in 2014. Enrolment is excellent even without including enrolment in monastic institutions.

Variable 8. Average years of schooling, for those above 25, are unknown. It might be low because of the backlog of people who did not attend schools. This measure excludes those below 25 considering they might be still enrolled in education system.

Variable 9. Percentage of live births attended by skilled health staff was 81% in 2012. It was 66% in 2008.

Variable 10. Under five mortality rate was at 37.3 per 1000 births in 2012. It was 84 per 1000 births in 2000. For comparison, Kerala has infant mortality rate of 10, and Sweden’s rate is 7.3. Swedish women’s fertility rate is also very low (Therborn, 2011; 149). In the world as a whole 350,000 babies are born a day (Therborn; 148), in Bhutan 32 are born a day, as I estimated from PHCB, 2005.

5 Variables or Indicators of Environmental Sustainability

Variable 11. Percentage of population with access to improved sanitation facilities was 81% in 2012 but basic sanitation was 95% in 2015, curiously down from 96.4 % in 2007, if the figures are correct. 2015 ESCAP survey report counts improved sanitation facility. It says: “the region is conspicuous for having the lowest level of access to improved sanitation owing to the very low rates recorded in Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan”. Perhaps this was a typographical error with respect to Bhutan, which has 89% improved sanitation coverage. The report’s statement that “At least half of the rural residents in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan still lack access to electricity” might also be a typographical error. Bhutan’s rural electricity coverage in 2012 was 88.6% from grid according to PM’s State of the Nation Report made in March 2013. However, if solar and small generators are included, the coverage was to 92% in 2012.

Variable 12. Percentage of population with access to improved water sources. ESCAP’s definition of improved water sources is not water tight. Piped water supply coverage is 83.3% of the 80,926 rural households, leaving 13,732 households without piped water supply partly because the stands and pipes have broken down. A baffling advertisement on piping standards or specification is said to have been printed as follows: “All pipe is to be made of a long hole, surrounded by metal centered around the hole…Outer-diameter of all pipes must exceed the inner-diameter. Otherwise, the hole will be on the outside of the pipe.” Holes and fissures have developed in a proportion of schemes once installed; 4,746 water schemes are defunct and communities have not been able to mend them. Overall access to improved water supply is estimated at 97%. It was 90.9% in 2007.

Variable 13. % annual change in green house gas emissions is unknown. The first and so far the last greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory conducted by NEC was in 2000 using data from 1994 and 2000. The inventory indicated a net emission of -2,200 Gg in 1994 and -4,800 Gg in 2000. The break up of GHG in 1994 are -3,321 Gg of CO2, 19.22 Gg of CH4, and 2.13 Gg of NO2 in 1994 (p.27). On C02 account, the estimation of 2000 showed that Bhutan removes more than it emits. On balance, Bhutan was found to be remover of C02 rather than emitter. Since the main emitter is the agriculture sector, reduction in agriculture acreage and livestock activities would reduce GHG emission. This particular environmental sustainability variable is premised on the idea of “achieving more growth with less resources” or rather less emission from fossil fuel by “low-carbon green growth approaches”, aimed ultimately “to limit global warming to a rise of no more than 2 degree C” (p.35).

Variable 14. % annual change in forest area was unknown. Forest coverage is quoted at a constant figure of 72% in spite of forest fires. Forest fire rank among the top causes of damage to Bhutan’s forests. For instance, there were 36 incidences of forest fires in 2010 alone, which burned more than 9,162.81 acres of forests.”

Variable 15. % annual change in fossil fuel energy used as a share of the total energy consumption was unknown. When petrol and diesel are clubbed together, Bhutan imported 89.1 ML (million litres) in 2009, 112.7 Ml in 2010, 132 Ml in 2011, and 153.5 Ml in 2012. Petro-diesel consumption had grown by 15.7% between 2011 and 2012. If each Bhutanese were to drink petro-diesel blend, in 2012 per capita consumption was 242 litres per person!

ESCAP Inclusiveness Index from Bhutan’s Perspective

The three constituent variables used in the environmental sustainability index are measured as percentage change per year instead of absolute amount. The overall weight of these three core environmental variables in the inclusiveness index is approximately 20%.

Bhutan has 72% of its surface area under forest. As this is already quite high, increasing the forest coverage will become challenging unless Bhutan wishes to give up more fields, meadows and grazing land to trees. Since the index uses annual % change in the forest area rather than absolute coverage, prospect of scoring higher will be difficult. A combination of absolute forest coverage and annual forest cover change can make the indicator better.

Tracking per capita fossil fuel energy use will similarly improve the inclusiveness index. Percentage annual change fossil fuel energy use out of the total energy consumption per country doesn’t differentiate the inequitable use of global commons by those countries who use relatively large amount of fossil fuel compared to others.

Percentage annual change in greenhouse gas emission is another variable that needs to be altered from Bhutan’s perspective. Criticism against measuring percentage change of fossil fuel energy use out of total energy use also applies to greenhouse gas emission. It would have been again preferable to go for per capita greenhouse gas emission instead of annual % change.

Extreme poverty has been almost eradicated. There are a few indicators that need sustained attention. These are reduction of unemployment (2.9); ratio of highest quintile consumption expenditure to the lowest quintile 7.3; under five mortality (37.3); access to pipe water supply for the remaining 13,732 rural households; fossil fuel energy consumption (153 ML in 2012 when petrol and diesel are added); and improved sanitation facilities for the remaining 19% of the households. The rate of increase in the fossil fuel energy consumption might be very rapid. But the overall effect on the inclusiveness index from fossil fuel in energy consumption will be very modest because it carries only 1/15th or 6.66% (less than 7 out of 100 weight on the index). Overall, Bhutan could score very well on all the variables. 

Contributed by Karma Ura