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Bhutan and SDGs

The Sustainable Development Report 2019, launched last week, has observed that four years after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGD) and the Paris Agreement no country in the world is anywhere near meeting the goals.

While this observation may be spot on the mark for many countries around the world, it does not quite hold true for Bhutan. In fact, come 2030, Bhutan could be the only country that has achieved all the goals.

Cynics and seek-sorrows abound and they will of course want to brush aside Bhutan’s optimism as overweening and unrealistic. Some ways this view about Bhutan is understandable and ignorance can be forgiven. We are often not heard or seen because of our size and influence on the global stage.

So, the question is: where then does Bhutan’s confidence come from?

Long before the world began to take note of and see the wisdom in our development approach we declaimed and practised sustainable development. There was the development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) so, which only now the wider world is giving the raves and trying to adopt as an alternative to GDP-led unsustainable development approach.

GNH is a development philosophy within which all the 17 SDGs and more, much more, are contained. Our five-year plans, which are carefully guided by GNH, have long laid importance on and prioritised the United Nations’ 2015-2030 agenda.

Here are some encouraging snapshots of Bhutan’s progress in relation to some of the SDGs. In the course of a decade’s socioeconomic development, Bhutan has reduced income poverty from 23.2 per cent to 8.2 per cent and multidimensional poverty from 12.7 per cent to 5.8 per cent.

The nation’s economy has grown at an average of 7.5 per cent and income inequality has remained minimal. The share of the industry to total GDP has increased to well over 40 per cent. Unemployment is, according to government reports, under 2.5 per cent.

In the same vein, about 99.5 per cent of the Bhutanese have access improved water sources and food sufficiency level is above 97 per cent. Net primary enrolment rate is 98.8 per cent and gender parity has been achieved at the higher secondary level. About 99.9 per cent of people have access to electricity and life expectancy has increased to over 70 years. Environmentally, Bhutan is today the global leader—Bhutan is the only carbon-negative country in the world.

But we are also acutely aware that there are challenges to be confronted in our march with progress. Poverty is still very high in rural parts of the country; quality education is a growing concern; at the tertiary education level, there is a visible gender gap; drying water sources and shortage of water for drinking and agriculture is growing; and unemployment among youth continues to rise.

As prime minister recently said, we are well on track to achieving the global agenda 2015-2030. But complacency remains our greatest challenge. Any sign of it should be cut, root and branch. 

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