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Poverty: Looking beyond reports

That Bhutan has been able to bring down national poverty rate from 12 percent to 8.2 percent in the period of five years is good news. As a nation that has always put happiness of the citizens at the centre of development initiatives, such a leap is both comforting and encouraging. For all the progress that we have achieved over the years, we have only to thank ourselves.

But then, we also have some serious challenges in hand. We know that poverty in Bhutan is largely a rural phenomenon. Surveys past and present have shown us that our rural cousins are a lot less happy. More importantly, we know where they are. According to poverty analysis report 2017, 40 percent of the poor live in the three dzongkhags of Dagana, Samtse, and Mongar. This calls for targeted interventions. Budgeting and planning development should not lose sight of these facts.

Even as we take development to rural Bhutan, goongtong or household emptying continues to happen. With young people moving to urban centres, shortage of farmhands has been one of the major problems facing the rural population. Lack of avenues to practise large-scale or commercial farming has been at the heart of rural to urban migration which will only augment if appropriate measures are not taken. It is hoped that the new rural credit facilities will be able to increase prosperity of the farming population. This can happen only if we are able to encourage young people to go back to the villages. At the centre of alleviating rural poverty lies making farming attractive.

Youth unemployment has been growing. While we have not been able to find long-term solutions to the problem, we have been blaming the youth for not taking the jobs that are available. School leavers and graduates are ill prepared for the kind of jobs that are there. Insisting that there are jobs galore but no takers is, therefore, absurd and meaningless. Failure to address rural-urban migration and rising youth unemployment could give rise to urban poverty, which is more dangerous and damaging.

Poverty of any kind is sad. It speaks volumes about efficacy of the government and its development policies. There is a need to consider these facts in the light of reassuring reports.

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