Although the incumbent government claims to have slashed the poverty rate from 23 to 12 percent, however, a survey by the National Statistical Bureau (NSB) has found that 26 percent or one in every four Bhutanese, believe themselves to be in the poor or very poor categories.
Of this, around 32 percent or one third of rural households believes that they are poor or very poor. In comparison, only 14 percent of urban households view themselves to be poor or very poor.
The study found that perception of households being poor is more widespread in rural areas.
Of the households who are very poor, only 43 percent consider themselves to be happy while 36 percent are unhappy.
The study also found that months of the cases of food insufficiency during the last 12 months were experienced by one in fifteen households in the rural areas, at seven percent of the households.
The survey is part of the Bhutan Living Standards Survey (BLSS) 2012 done by the NSB.
Despite being in the fourth year of development under the incumbent government, the priority in rural areas are mainly road infrastructure and bridges, water supply, transport and communication, agriculture and extension facilities, health facilities and school facilities making up around 80 percent of the priority.
In urban areas, the most important issue are of labour and employment followed by other concerns like housing, water supply, waste management, and health facilities. These are also such issues in rural areas, but they are rated as less important.
In both the rural and urban areas, there are concerns on land followed by concerns on credit and loan issues.
The citizen’s perception of being very poor is also similar to the findings of The Bhutanese that found the NSB’s official 12 percent poverty rate to be questionable. The NSB had said that anyone consuming below Nu 1,704 per month in March 2012 is below the poverty line. So as per the NSB study, only 12 percent of the population fell below the poverty line. But if the actual food inflation, as found by this paper, is used then the poverty line would increase. significantly from Nu 1,704, thus increasing the poverty rate as more people would fall below the line.
The Bhutanese had found that the increase in food price figures from 2007 to 2012 used by the National Statistical Bureau (NSB) as a key data to calculate the poverty rate in 2012 is much lower than the actual increase in food prices.
This would have lead to distortions in calculating the poverty rate, showing poverty to be lower than it actually is.
In the food component, the NSB applied a food inflation of 68 percent from 2007 to 2012 to increase the food poverty line from Nu 688.96 in 2007 to Nu 1,154.74.
However, this paper found that food prices had increased from 100 percent to even 300 percent from 2007 to 2012, in most major food items like rice, dairy products, vegetables, and to a lesser extent in the meat items as well.
This should mean that the poverty line of which 67 percent is food poverty line in reality should be higher than Nu 1,704 per month, and thus, it would also mean that the poverty rate is actually higher than 12 percent.
Tenzing Lamsang/ Thimphu