Conventionally, factors such as lack of basic amenities, poor road connection, increasing human-wildlife conflict, limited job scope and market accessibility are some of the common reasons for rural depopulation. These factors can also be rightfully cited for Bhutan’s increasing rural and urban migration.
However, this is not the same case in rural Japan. Despite all basic facilities put in place, Japanese rural communities have witnessed unprecedented level of rural depopulation. Many of the traditional houses and schools in Sasari village in Japan are converted into community centres and halls, where villagers occasionally meet to discuss ways to prevent people from abandoning their homes. This is indeed a real challenge for them. Thus, Japan’s case provides us the opportunity to critically look at our current approach to solve rural urban migration in Bhutan and ask questions whether it is enough to have all facilities in place or is there something more than just infrastructural development?
Policies that are designed to gain short term economic growth can lead to serious consequence for long term sustainability. For Instance, fifty years ago, local community in Japan converted their rice fields to dry land for timber (Japanese cedar/ Cryptomeria) plantation, as the demand for timber was really high during the time. Now, the trees are ready for harvest but market demand has shrunk over the years. Moreover, the pollens from the male cones of these trees have become bio-hazardous to people living in the community.
Although, the local government of Sasari village in Japan is proactive in facilitating community welfare services, local market setup for local produce and promoting tourism, the rural depopulation is still on the rise. Most of the emptied traditional houses and handicraft items serve as artifacts in their museums to attract local tourists.
If providing adequate developmental facilities and focusing on improving economic stability is not wholesome solution to rural depopulation, then what is ? This is where GNH Values makes sense to me. Five of nine domains of GNH, which value inter-human relationships and relationship with rest of nature could be a solution. This, I feel is very important for co-existence. The nine domains balances economic growth of a community with overall welfare of an individual. In addition to economic development, policies that are designed to improve individual psychological wellbeing, good health, community vitality, time use and promotion of tradition, could be the most sensible approach in solving rural depopulation in Bhutan.
I am not saying that the current policies are not in line with the GNH values, but we need to look at such examples so that we don’t prioritize one domain of GNH over another.
Opinion by Bimal K Chetri
The writer is a Lecturer in the Department of Environment and Life Sciences in Sherubtse College.