One of the stark features of many villages in Trashiyangtse dzongkhag today, is the number of empty households or ‘goongtongs’ that are increasing at alarming rates., Trashiyangtse has the highest number of goongtongs in the country.
In some villages there are more goongtongs than actual households. Local leaders say, rural-urban migration has become a trend and people continue to move out of their villages in droves, every year.
The government must do something soon, said Toetsho Gup Dechen Wangdi, who worries that the villages will soon become completely empty at the rate at which people are leaving. For instance, Manam Chemkhar chiwog, had 49 households in the past, today there are only 25. “The place grows all kinds of crops, fruits and vegetables and is very rich and fertile, but the lands are fallow and unused now,” Gup Dechen Wangdi said. The increasing number of fallow lands has often let to discrepancies in the collection of land tax.
In other chiwogs like Jangphoogtse, most of the able-bodied young people have left their homes, while the elderlies, mostly above the age of 45, have decided to stay back. The young people are either outside the country or working in urban centers like Thimphu. There are a total of 98 goongtongs in Toetshoe gewog.
Similarly, Tongzhang chiwog has 350 households out of which 150 are goongtongs. It has the highest number of goongtongs in Trashiyangtse dzongkhag.
Tongzhang Mangmi Karma Wangchuk said, the children are the first to migrate to urban centers in search of work. Once they find employment, they come back to the villages to take their parents along with them, leaving their homes and land behind.
A lack of reliable income source, human-wildlife conflict, lack of better health facilities, education and living standards as well as the absence of many facilities, opportunities, services and amenities that are available in the urban areas, are some of the reasons that have contributed to an increasing number of goongtongs in Trashiyangtse.
Human-wildlife conflict has exacerbated in recent times, even though the government continue to provide electric fences to keep off wild animals from destroying crops and vegetables. Farmers often bear extreme losses when wildlife destroys all their crops and vegetables said Khamdang Gup, Norbu. His gewog has around 82 goongtongs. He added that the increasing number of empty households is further worsening the conflict with wildlife, as more lands remain fallow and covered in bushes.
There are a total of 44 households and 8 goongtongs in Rabti in Yangtse gewo, but the number is expected to increase further as nothing has been done to prevent the migration of villagers to urban centers. In Rabti village, most of the villagers have left because of increasing human wildlife conflict. Those who have stayed back are all old and infirm. Rabti chiwog Tshogpa Thukten Tashi said neither the government nor the gewog administration has done anything to stop or reduce the migration.
“We need to convince people to stay back and also work on creating more opportunities, services and facilities,” he said.
Chesung Lhamo,32, farmer of Shung village in Rabti said most of the house are empty for more than 16 years, some of the houses are destroyed. While there are few who comes once in a year to check on their house and head back to city.
People are leaving because there is no electricity, phone network and roads. One of the main challenge is human-wild life conflict. She said the villagers works so hard, at the end, wild animals destroys their crops.
People in Shung village grow rice and maize for self-consumption, she added.
However, not everything is seemingly bad and in some places, with concerted efforts to create more opportunities and services, some of the villages have been able to reverse the trend of rural-urban migration.
Jamkhar gewog had around 111 goongtongs in the past, today the number had decreased to 89, thanks to a successful collaboration with the dzongkhag administration where young people were provided with jersey farm and power tillers.
“We are always looking for more solutions to convince our people to stay back and has also recently proposed some budget to the government,” said Jamkhar gup Karma Tshewang.
Toetsho Gup Dechen Wangdi said people are returning in some villages, as there are more economic opportunities in the villages today than in the past. “We are focusing more on Manam Chemkhar gewog as there are more goongtongs there,” he said. There are also plans to upgrade the existing mule track and the cable car. He also suggested upgrading schools and BHUs.
In Taphel chiwog, rather than goongtongs, there are more people coming into the villages, as there are opportunities to additional income through activities such as cordyceps collection, said Taphel Tshogpa Tshering Dorji.
Other gewogs like Boomdeling is also looking at a plethora of plans, programs and activities to retain their villagers. In Wongmana chiwog, the government has provided budget to farmers interested in growing the famous Yangtse chili, known for its delicacy in the country. This has encouraged many people to stay back.
Roads, medical facilities clean drinking water supply, irrigation and governments support on agriculture and farming are important to prevent rural-urban migration.
Many in the dzongkhag have placed much hope on the Kholongchhu hydropower project, which is expected to provide economic opportunities and access to market to the villages.
Economic growth and development has no doubt led to increase in the income level. Bhutan’s poverty has reduced significantly and Bhutan’s GDP per capita is one of the highest in the region.
But has there been a uniform distribution of wealth across the nation or has the growth in economy only fueled more income disparity.
Meanwhile the current government has campaigned on narrowing income inequality by providing access to better health and education facilities in other areas besides the urban centers. There are positive signs in some places but in its entirety, rural-urban migration trend continues to pick up pace and the government must plan and work accordingly before empty households become empty villages.
This story is published under the Content Grant Scheme of the Department of Information and Media, MoIC.