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Community sustainability at high risk: JICA survey

JICA has been working for long with the Royal Government of Bhutan in the decentralisation process, placing strong emphasis on human resource development. Currently, JICA cooperates with the Department of Local Governance (DLG) in implementing “Support for Community Engagement in Local Governance (SCLG) Project” with three target dzongkhags. In order to study the community engagement in local governance in Bhutan, I was invited by the DLG as a technical expert on September 10 and conducted a survey in one of the pilot gewogs, Limbukha in Punakha.

As senior advisor of JICA, I was so delighted with an opportunity to work in Bhutan for three weeks. I encountered something new every day and learnt a lot about the beauty of the country during my stay. I found some disturbing issues as well after visiting a small chiwog called Dompola in Punakha where I conducted a community survey through interaction with local people for two days.

It took 40 minutes to climb from Khuruthang to Dompola by 4WD with a superb overlooking view of crystal clear river water and amazing mixture of yellowish rice field and greens in the mountains. Main purpose of my visit was to identify rural development issues there, with special reference to the theme of 12th Five-Year Plan: Just, Harmonious and Sustainable Society through Enhanced Decentralisation.

For the survey at Dompola, I applied “T-shape Community Survey Method” widely used in Japan. Essential part of this method is drawing of a family tree which looks like “T”. Community people were guided at the workshop to produce their family trees showing family members residing together and all the children with their sex and age, and then circle those children who have out-migrated in red color with indication of their whereabouts and occupations. This is the end of the survey: simple and easy to handle.

Back in the hotel, I calculated how many people were residing in and outside of Dompola and produced a population pyramid. The survey took two hours, calculation and analysis 1.5 hours without using a computer. Next day, I presented the results to the Dompola residents in the presence of the Limbukha gewog officials.

We found 47 males and 46 females currently residing in Dompola while 20 males and 23 females had out-migrated to nearby places like Khuruthang. The number of male out-migrants who were residing far from Dompola was 62 and that of female was 56. Many of them are in Thimphu and a few abroad. In sum, 82 males and 79 females were out of the chiwog while there were only 93 residents.

I introduced to the residents the concept of “endangered rural community” developed in Japan for analysing sustainability of the community. With more than half of the community population over 65 years old, the community is judged as “endangered” and not sustainable in future because it is hard to undertake communal activities with the majority of elderly population there. Clearing irrigation channels, repairing community roads and other facilities and organising seasonal festivals are some of the examples of the activities which have been managed by community people for long time. Needless to mention, local governments cannot expect stable revenues from local tax to finance social welfare services for the increasing elderly people. Endangered rural community is a serious consequence of rapid and massive out-migration from rural areas to cities in Japan, and Bhutan will soon follow suit.

With so many out-migrants, Dompola is “endangered”? 

Residents were happy to hear the result that showed only 16.1 percent of the population (10 males and 5 females) were over 65, and Dompola was not an endangered rural community in this respect. They were also encouraged to know that the most productive age group between 26 and 55 shared 41.9 percent of the population (17 males and 22 females), which looked all right. I suggested them to form a farmers’ group as a counterpart of the agricultural extension officer located at RNR center because all of them depended on the vegetable production for their livelihood.

However, survey result also showed that Dompola will not sustain itself. It is a matrilineal society where a man comes to marry a lady and stay in Dompola. We found only two young ladies aged between 16 and 25 residing there, and only one of them was single. No opportunity, therefore, to increase the number of households in coming years. In this regard, sustainability of Dompola is absolutely at high risk.

It is not the aggregated depopulation alone but the changing structure of the population that counts for considering sustainability of the rural communities. “T-shape Community Survey Method” is an effective means for this purpose and recommended to cover wider areas in Bhutan for location-specific consideration of sustainability.

Japan is a forerunner of global issues. The problems that we have faced in Japan will pose the same challenges to developing countries in the near future. During rapid economic growth in the 1960s and 70s, for example, we had gone through serious problems caused by wide-spread environmental pollutions. Scientific research and development (R&D) found operational solutions to some of them. Industrial waste management and energy-saving technologies are the examples which can be transferred from Japan.

On the other hand, we know that there are other issues which are location-specific, and sophisticated science laboratories cannot always provide a solution. Rural-urban migration is one of such issues and no forerunner, including Japan, is able to figure out an immediate solution because of the contextual differences.

What then is the role of Japan as a forerunner?

One of the SCLG project components takes a form of training in Japan. JICA invites the DLG staff and local government functionaries to observe local governance and development in Japan, expecting that direct interaction between the Bhutanese and Japanese policy-makers and practitioners may generate innovative ideas to address the sustainability issues of rural communities.

The second group of Bhutanese leaders is visiting Japan now. I look forward to guiding them to share good practices in Japan and hope that we can go beyond the contextual differences.

 

Contributed by Masanobu Kiyoka (Mr.)

Senior Advisor,  JICA, Tokyo

(Mr. Kiyoka has been assigned as a short-term JICA Expert from Tokyo, Japan)

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