A lot has changed in Bhutan. A lot has not.
The population and housing census report, which has captured the socio-economic changes and deprivation in the last 12 years also reflects the changes Bhutan saw as a democracy.
We are more literate and living longer. Literacy rate, which has reached 71.4 percent has increased by 11.9 percent, almost by a percent each year. There are as many Bhutanese with a masters degree and above as those without jobs. The people need to ask what these changes mean.
Policy makers, while lauding the increased literacy rate should be concerned that the unemployment rate is increasing as more people complete higher levels of education. From less than a percent of those with primary education and no schooling, unemployment rate increases to 6.7 percent among those who complete secondary education and higher.
What has not changed in the last 12 years are the reasons cited for migration.
After family move, employment and education are the most cited reasons people cited for leaving their birthplace. This has perhaps led to more Bhutanese living in rented houses than their own homes often with limited access to improved sanitation facilities.
Thimphu, Samtse and Chukha are home to more than 4,000 households each without access to improved sanitation facilities. At least two percent of the population do not have a toilet facility today, which is a drop from 10 percent in 2005. But it is not enough. Efforts must be made to ensure that the 3,325 people have access to toilet facilities.
Access to water, which is integral to sanitation and the people’s wellbeing, however, calls for more attention. Last year, one fifth of the population, almost 30,000 households lacked reliable water supply. The capital with 4,591 households and Chukha with 2,761 have the highest number of homes without reliable water supply. By reliable, it means, the availability of water at least during critical hours of the day.
Timely and continuous water supply, improving road infrastructure and job creation topped the list of priority issues for the people, according to the living standards survey, 2017, when they were asked to name three actions the government should take to improve their welfare.
When people still prioritise access to basic services for government actions, it shows that the country and governments have not done enough. Against such deprivations, the country’s economic growth and graduating from the least developed status appear hollowed.
Sustaining the progress it has made so far while addressing youth unemployment and access to drinking water are Bhutan’s biggest challenges today.