UNDP has launched its Human Development Report (HDR) 2019 with the theme ‘Beyond income, beyond average, beyond today: Inequalities in the 21st century’. It sets out that despite unprecedented progress against poverty, hunger and disease in the world, systemic inequalities are deeply damaging the society , and presents its analysis on the matter.
Over the past three decades, Bhutan has seen impressive economic growth as its economy grew on average by 7 percent per year. Between 2005 and 2018, Bhutan’s Human Development Index (HDI) grew from 0.512 to 0.617 (with an increase of 20.5 percent), positioning the country in the Middle Human Development Category, positioning it at 134 out of 189 countries and territories.
However, the benefits of such growth have not been felt equally across the nation. The challenge of inequality in Bhutan is not that people are being left behind within their communities, but rather that whole communities are experiencing different growth trajectories across the country.
“Poverty in Bhutan has a rural face where over 90 percent of the poor are found in rural communities,” UNDP Resident Representative, Azusa Kubota, added.
This year’s HDR is first of the new generation of UNDP, and aims push the boundaries to accelerate thought leadership, drive conversations on the future of development, and in doing so, advance progress towards 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
UNDP Resident Representative said that the theme resonates well, with the center focus of the government’s pledge to narrowing the gap. It is a testament to the Bhutanese people and government’s recognition that inequalities bring disharmony to the society and undermines the benefits of development, she added.
She said, “As new generation of inequalities is opening-up around education, technology and climate change, two seismic shifts, that unchecked, could open a new divide akin to what happened during the Industrial Revolution.”
The report states that inequalities are not only about how much someone earns compared to its neighbor, but it is about the unequal distribution of wealth and power, the entrenched social and political norms that are bringing people onto the streets in cities and towns across the world, and the triggers that will do so in the future unless something changes.
Recognizing the real face of inequality is a first step, she said, adding that what happens next is a choice because inequality is not beyond solutions. “We can do so by looking beyond income, beyond averages, and beyond today, with new analysis, ideas and policy options to get to the bottom of the problem while helping nations to grow their economies and improve human development,” she said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that HDR 2019 is an important document because of the many cues that the government can take from it to strengthen its development progress. “This year’s theme is inequality, and more then that, I think we are talking about relevance of inequality,” Lyonchhen added.
He also said that the government has pledged to narrow the gap, which they did not only mean narrowing the gap in income. The pledge is in line with the philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH).
“With this, I am very happy that this government had taken lots of initiatives that is relevant, and we are happy that with the launch of HDR. We are given more confidence in taking the role that we have been doing now,” he said.
UN Bhutan Resident Coordinator, Gerald Daly, said that it is clear from the report that rapid changes are happening in the fundamentals of inequality around the world, and Bhutan can astutely choose to read the ‘writing on the wall’ from these other countries and proactively take the right actions.
“Technology, gender inequality and social media are just some of the areas where we can anticipate huge changes around the world. I, personally, hope that the press, CSO community and RUB have a strong voice in the preparations of the 2040 Vision,” he added.
Leaving no one behind requires the use of disaggregated data, he said, adding that the disaggregation includes breaking data down by details, such as gender and age at dzongkhag and gewog levels. Data based on national averages often misses the opportunities to identify specific challenges that must be addressed if they are to fully implement the 2030 agenda, he said.
He said, “Finally, this disaggregation to gewog level will grow ever more important as government financial disbursements happen at the dzongkhag and gewog levels. Targeting relevant monies to the most vulnerable at the gewog level is a worthy goal of development.”
Over the recent years, UNDP conducted important studies, and as per the Vulnerability Baseline Assessment, there are 14 recognized vulnerable groups that speak to the challenges of NKRA 3 on inequality and poverty.
Much progress is being made in regard to the vulnerable groups, like people living with HIV and increased engagement with the Rainbow Bhutan community. “Inequality is dynamic, and we need to engage with insight to the emerging inequalities that some would say are still on the horizon,” he added.