It was one in four in 2007 

Tshering Palden

Of the 127,942 households in Bhutan, 11,049 are poor and 2,322 extremely poor the poverty assessment report (PAR) 2012 states.

This means nine percent are poor and two percent extremely poor based on the new total poverty line of a mini- mum consumption expenditure of Nu 1,704.80 a person a month. The total poverty line is the sum of the food poverty line of Nu 1,154.74 and non-food allowance of Nu 550.10.

According to the report, one in every Bhutanese is below the poverty line or an estimated 12 percent of the population is poor. It was 23.2 percent in 2007.

The extremely or subsist- ence poor households, which means the two percent, are those “whose consumption expenditure is insufficient even to meet basic food needs even if they devote their entire consumption expenditure to food alone”.

The PAR 2012, states the best estimate of poverty rate in the country is 12 percent. This estimate has a margin of error of 1.2 percentage points, which means the true poverty rate of the country stands be- tween 10.9 percent and 13.2 percent.

Among the dzongkhags, poverty rates are highest in Lhuentse (31.9 percent), Pemagatshel (26.9 percent), Zhemgang (26.3 percent), Dagana (25.1 percent), Samtse (22.2 percent) and Samdrupjongkhar (21 percent).

Of the total, 17 percent of the country’s poor lives in Samtse, another 9.1 percent in Samdrupjongkhar, 8.8 percent in Chukha, and 8.6 percent in Pemagatshel.

The rates of extreme poverty are high in Lhuentse at 11.1 percent and Zhemgang at 9.9 percent, while Samtse and Zhemgang have the high- est distribution of this group of people.

While rural poverty has reduced from 31 percent in 2007 to 17 in 2012, the poor in urban areas have remained “unchanged” at about two percent, the report states.

Extreme poverty also fell from six percent in 2007 to about three percent last year. The rate of extremely poor people in rural areas was halved in 2012 to four percent from 2007.

About 44 percent of the poor live in households headed by those engaged in agriculture, and 16 percent in households whose head is not actively participating in the labour force.

For those below 25 years, the poverty rate is three percent against 14 percent for those over 65 years. “It is noticed that most household heads (68 percent) in Bhutan are 25 to 54 years, while less than five percent are below age 25, and about 13 percent are 65 and above,” the report states.

The assessment also found that literacy rate is lower in poor people (52 percent) than in non-poor (65 percent). The literacy rate of the non-poor in urban areas is 17 percent more than the poor. In rural areas, it is six percent more than the literacy rate of the poor.

The average income of non-poor households in urban areas is Nu 23,784, three times more than what poor households earn. For those households away from towns, the average income of non-poor households is Nu 9,348, twice more than the poor households.

When it comes to access to improved drinking water sources the report states there is hardly any disparity between poor and non-poor households.

Some 82 percent of poor households own mobile phones, 92 percent for non-poor, while 59 and 12 percent of non-poor households have television sets and Internet connection respectively. For poor households, it is 21 percent and two percent.

A person belonging to the richest 20 percent of the national population consumes 6.7 times more than a person belonging to the poorest 20 percent of the population.

The assessment analysed data from BLSS 2012 that surveyed 8,968 households across the country. The survey gathered data on household consumption expenditure, demographics characteristics of household members, household assets, credit and income, remittances, housing, access to public facilities and services, education, employment, health of household members, and prices paid for commodities.