Poverty in BhutanBhutan is a small country tucked away in the mountainous terrain of the Himalayas. Known as the Kingdom of Happiness, Bhutan is notable for creating its Gross National Happiness Index. This index serves as a tool for the Government of Bhutan to outline what must be done in order to foster and maintain a holistically sustainable environment. To uphold this index, Bhutan has made it a priority to reduce poverty in Bhutan and better the quality of life for the population.

Poverty in Bhutan

Poverty in Bhutan stems largely from issues with the country’s terrain. The Himalayas, while beautiful, are also difficult to cultivate, traverse and control. Farmers struggle to grow enough crops to maintain a stable income due to the limited access to farmable land. What workable land there is, often rests at the whims of various natural disasters. The lack of education and diverse job opportunities also have made it difficult for many to rise out of their economic situation without help and intervention.

Over the last 10 years, the government has made impressive strides to address poverty in Bhutan. Between 2007 and 2012, poverty dropped from 23% down to 12%. In 2017, Bhutan announced that it had once again cut its poverty rate by half over five years, dropping the number down to 5.8%.

Strategies and Improvements

The value of land productivity has been rising and thus, farming has become a more profitable and sustainable industry. Bhutan cultivates less than 3% of its land but the country has shifted to producing high-value commercial crops. These crops sell for a high price with countries such as India and Bangladesh, making up for the lack of farmable land. Trade agreements have stimulated the value of agricultural exports, increasing the international cash flow into Bhutan’s own economy.

Infrastructure and road production have become vital players in the reduction of poverty in Bhutan. The Government of Bhutan set out to update existing paths, develop new highways and ensure that no town is more than a half-day walk from the closest road. High-quality roads allow for traffic both through and out of rural areas. This increased traffic to urban areas provides easier access to jobs, education and other opportunities for those who previously struggled with inaccessibility.

Hydroelectric projects also play a sizeable role in Bhutan’s efforts to fight poverty. These projects have not only stimulated job growth within rural communities but have also brought in many foreign workers. The presence of these workers increases local spending, benefitting rural communities with income.

Looking Forward

Over the last decade, the rate of poverty in Bhutan has fallen to new lows. While there are still many in the country that struggle with poor living conditions, the government is working to ensure that they too will benefit from the economic changes that Bhutan is trying to normalize. The Gross National Happiness Index accounts for all the people of the country and thus, Bhutan will continue to work at helping its people until all are holistically happy.

Nicolette Schneiderman
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in BhutanThe small kingdom of Bhutan dedicates itself to maintaining the happiness of its people. It created the Gross National Happiness Index, a tool for measuring the comfort of the population. With this tool, Bhutan’s government aims to provide a particular quality of life for the population. In order to do so, the country remains isolated in the modern age. It allows only a select few tourists to enter the country annually and monitors what kind of technology makes it past the borders. In a country that dedicates itself to ensuring the wellbeing of its people, what is the homeless population like? Many view Bhutan as a beacon of admirability, believing that there are practically no homeless people. International reporting often focuses on how homelessness in Bhutan is virtually nonexistent.

The Hidden Issue

There is another side to the topic of homelessness in Bhutan though. Kuensel is the national newspaper of Bhutan and has published multiple articles covering cases of homelessness within the country. The newspaper has continuously attempted to source the reasons behind why some people in a country so focused on happiness find themselves on the streets. Kuensel uses its inside perspective to try to shift focus away from shining solely on Bhutan’s successful numbers. Instead, he shifts it toward what still needs to be done.

Environmental Disasters and Accidents

One reason that Kuensel found has to do with environmental disasters and accidents. In 2013, a landslide destroyed the home of a family of five and subsequently forced them to live in a small shed. Three years following the incident, the family claimed that Bhutan’s Department of Roads helped to restore some of their land. However, it did not restore their home despite contacting them multiple times. Their story highlighted the lack of congruence between the disenfranchised population and the government’s actions.

Some do not own any land though and find themselves unable to acquire any. Elderly residents that did not inherit land from their parents work trying to scrape by enough money for rations. Often times, they have to beg when they aren’t able to make enough. A 70-year-old man reported to Kuensel that his parents died when he was young with no land to pass down to him. He lives in a rundown makeshift hut, scrounging up firewood and doing what he can to make money for food. He worries that one day, he will lose the few resources he has and have nothing left.

Mental Illness and Unemployment

Mental illness has also become an issue regarding homelessness in Bhutan. Many of the homeless people in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, are mentally ill. Abandoned by their families, they subsequently end up in the streets. One case details the suffering of a woman with schizophrenia. Her family supported her as she was a child, but could no longer care for her as an adult. As a result, she ended up living in an abandoned hut in dismal conditions with little to no food. With few mental health resources in the country, mentally ill homeless people often end up neglected and alienated by society.

There is also an issue with rising unemployment rates, particularly among the female population of Bhutan. The overall rate is approximately 2.7% but rises to 7.3% when specifically looking at youths and women. Only 55% of women are literate. When paired with the unemployment numbers, the women of Bhutan are forced to face the threat of poverty and potential homelessness.

Bringing Awareness

There are groups that aim to bring awareness to homelessness in Bhutan though. All for One and One for All (A11A) is a group that assists those who find themselves on the streets by linking them with healthcare workers. Lhak-Sam, an organization originally meant to aid those with HIV in Bhutan, has also opened a care house for the homeless population. It hopes to develop the center so that it can provide mental, physical and emotional aid to those who rely on its services.

However, these efforts are not sustainable in the long-run without assistance. Bhutan may not have a large homeless population, but the suffering of those who find themselves with nowhere to go is generally unheard. With more international awareness, groups such as A11A and Lhak-sam may be able to receive the aid from both the Bhutanese government that they need.

Nicolette Schneiderman
Photo: Pixabay

Sanitation in BhutanAccess to functioning sanitation is critical for maintaining a healthy population and increasing lifespans worldwide. Countries facing sanitation challenges are more susceptible to health challenges, and Bhutan is no different. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Bhutan.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Bhutan

  1. The Royal Government of Bhutan recognizes sanitation as a right, and its constitution obliges it to provide a safe and healthy environment for its citizens. However, only 71 percent of people in Bhutan had access to improved sanitation as of 2016 according to a government report. The report also notes that safety management is necessary to maintain basic sanitation even in these areas. UNICEF reports that 63 percent of the population has access to basic sanitation facilities.
  2. Many girls in Bhutan miss school due to hygiene and sanitation concerns. A recent study reported that around 44 percent of adolescent girls missed school and other activities due to menstruation. They listed a lack of clean toilets and water as one of the primary reasons.
  3. Bhutan has a WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) program to increase access to sanitation in schools. By working with UNICEF, Bhutan was able to provide 200 schools with improved sanitation as of an evaluation in 2014. During this evaluation, 90.8 percent of respondents surveyed reported that the program improved students’ health.
  4. As of 2016, all schools in Bhutan had at least one toilet. However, 20 percent of schools did not have working toilets, and 11 percent did not have access to improved sanitation. Furthermore, only about one-third of schools had toilets specifically for girls.
  5. Monastic institutions in Bhutan frequently do not have basic sanitation facilities. About 65 percent lack water supply, while 34 percent do not have proper sanitation. This leads to skin infections, worm infestations and other health issues in monasteries and nunneries.
  6. The most common type of sewage treatment in urban Bhutan are septic tanks that discharge into the environment with no treatment or containment. All urban landfills in Bhutan are used as open dumps and are not sanitary landfills capable of containing and treating solid waste. In rural areas, pit toilets are the most common.
  7. Twenty-four sub-districts in Bhutan have access to 100 percent improved sanitation. These sub-districts are located within nine of Bhutan’s 20 districts. A health assistant in Mongar district said that, with 100 percent improved sanitation, the number of cases of diarrhea is falling.
  8. Many people need to be treated for illnesses that could have been prevented with improved access to sanitation. Poor sanitation was responsible for 30 percent of reported health cases in 2017. Healthcare facilities themselves also suffer from sanitation challenges, as 40 percent of district hospitals reported severe water shortages.
  9. According to a report in 2015, over 50 percent of people living in urban areas only had access to an intermittent water supply; a supply that delivered water six to 12 hours per day. Additionally, this water did not meet quality guidelines. In rural areas, only 69 percent of water supply systems are functional.
  10. As of 2017, only 32 percent of the poorest households in Bhutan had access to improved sanitation. This is about three times less than the richest households, of which 95 percent had access to improved sanitation facilities. Government reports recognize that there are disparities in access to sanitation relating to various factors; income, disability, gender and geographic variables can all contribute.

Overall, these 10 facts about sanitation in Bhutan demonstrate that the sanitation, water and hygiene conditions are quickly improving in the country. Initiatives by the government, UNICEF and other nonprofits in the country have led to substantial positive changes. However, inequality in access to improved sanitation services remains a major issue, and Bhutan still has a long way to go to provide improved sanitation throughout the entire country.

Kayleigh Crabb

Photo: Pixaby

Hydropower Development in BhutanBhutan is the world’s first, and only, carbon-negative country thanks to its focus on clean energy and environmental protection. Countries that are defined as carbon-negative absorb more carbon than they produce, rendering the net amount released negative. This is partially due to the over 70% of tree-covered land that absorbs carbon and Bhutan’s strict environmental sustainability initiatives. One form of clean energy that has allowed Bhutan to achieve this status is hydropower. Hydropower is also the country’s major export and main economic driver.

Economic Benefits

Hydropower has existed as a major sector in Bhutan’s economy since the 2000s, as it accounts for 27% of Bhutan’s revenue and about 14% of its GDP. In fact, Bhutan produces so much energy from hydropower that about 80% of its surplus power is exported to India.

The hydropower potential in the South Asian country of 765,000 people is found in Bhutan’s many powerful rivers in the Himalayan Mountains. There are at least five operational hydropower plants generating more than 1,600 megawatts (MW) of power. However, this is only a fraction of what the country can generate. Bhutan’s hydropower potential is estimated at 30,000 MW, and of that amount, 23,760 MW is considered economically feasible.

Recent Developments

In order to reach the hydropower potential goal, more plants are in the work. Punatsangchu I and II, Nikachu and Khonlongchu are four such plants that will provide an additional 2,000 MW. This would double the amount of hydropower already produced in Bhutan. The projects will be complete within the next two years and strengthen past successes. The Mangdechhu plant (producing 720 MW) was completed in 2019 and is the most cost-effective power plant in South Asia.

However, Bhutan’s terrain is difficult to traverse when constructing hydropower plants, so completing an economically feasible project is rare. The proposed 2,585 MW Sankosh plant received grant money from a partnership between Bhutan and India in 2017 and will be the largest hydropower project in the region. The project will cost $1.65 billion, which is an ambitious and expensive project for a small country with a GDP of $2.3 billion. The project indicates the country’s push to continue hydropower development in Bhutan. Although Sankosh is still under discussion, the massive project could help Bhutan’s economy and lead to job growth once the dam begins construction. Hydropower projects usually involve hundreds of millions of dollars, yet the revenue earned by exporting surplus power covers the high cost in the long run.

Gross National Happiness

Although hydropower development in Bhutan appears to help its economy, the excess power is also used to help those who lack the means to afford electricity. Free electricity is provided to rural farmers, which also prevents the need to use wood and gasoline for fuel. Bhutan has had a 99% electricity rate since 2017, which is a big jump from 61%  in 2006. More than 95% of Bhutan’s electricity comes from hydropower. The country’s focus on clean energy is why it’s a carbon sink; trees absorb all the carbon produced by its people.

Bhutan’s economic development since 1972 is based on Gross National Happiness (GNH), a unique political initiative that guides the country’s development in every area. The four pillars of Gross National Happiness include environmental conservation, good governance, preservation and promotion of culture and sustainable and equitable socio-economic development. This initiative helped guide hydropower development in Bhutan while also saving the surrounding environment. For example, as part of GNH, at least 67% of the trees in the country must remain according to Bhutan’s constitution. This helps prevent deforestation while keeping carbon out of the air. The country has reached only about two percent of its hydropower potential, yet hydropower development in Bhutan continues to grow.

– Lucas Schmidt

Photo: Flickr

Tourism in Bhutan
The curious case of Bhutan has puzzled social and economic scholars for decades. In 1972, the king of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, declared that Gross National Happiness (GNH) was more important than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is the first and only country in the world to use GNH as a measure of socio-economic development rather than GDP. Bhutan conducts measurements by evaluating nine domains.

Nine Domains of Gross National Happiness:

  • Psychological Well-being
  • Health
  • Education
  • Time Use
  • Cultural Diversity and Resilience
  • Good Governance
  • Community Vitality
  • Living Standards
  • Ecological Diversity and Resilience

The last domain listed above (Ecological Diversity and Resilience) has been the cornerstone of Bhutanese Buddhist ideology for centuries. As such, the Bhutanese government has devoted a large portion of its policy agenda toward the conservation of native wildlife. It is the only country in Asia to have over 50 percent of its natural land guaranteed preservation at all times under its constitution. However, with the recent democratization of the country in 2007 and the subsequent onset of globalization, the young generation that makes up over 60 percent of the population would rather “spend time in front of televisions… instead of at the Buddhist temples or in the forests.”

Youth and Urbanization

The more technological interests of the new generation have sparked concern among the traditional older generation in Bhutan. The youth are moving to the cities in droves and will likely live their lives more disconnected from nature and religion than previous generations. As of 2017, 48.7 percent of the population born in rural areas had migrated to cities in search of education, jobs and a more modern lifestyle. Most of these domestic migrants are between the ages of 25 and 29.

Some expect more rapid urbanization to take place due to this large and sudden influx of people to Bhutanese cities. If the rate of movement remains consistent, Bhutan will have to more than double the amount of land available for urban expansion to have adequate housing to accommodate the influx. Along with housing, Bhutan will also have to expand sanitation facilities, electrical infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, public transit and education facilities. These are factors that many Southeast Asian countries have struggled to expand sustainably. However, this does not mean that environmental factors will become obsolete in order to make these developments.

 Tourism in Bhutan

Tourism is one of Bhutan’s largest industries and it is still growing. According to the Bhutan Tourism Monitor from 2016 to 2017, the country experienced a 22 percent growth in tourist arrivals. Tourism generally sparks an increase in globalization in countries that have largely disconnected from international developments, such as modernization, especially among the youth. As tourism ramps up, cities begin to develop more to entice and accommodate additional tourists. This also creates more jobs and draws in domestic migrants from the countryside, just as Bhutan is experiencing now. However, the cities are not the only attraction for tourists. Tourism in Bhutan consists mainly of ecotourism – people want to experience the beauty of Bhutan’s preserved countryside. Tourism in Bhutan is prompting greater urbanization and interest in modern amenities among the youth; however, it also emphasizes the importance of environmental preservation to Bhutan’s economy.

 Improvements in Rural Communities 

Bhutan has implemented the Remote Rural Communities Development Project (RRCDP) in order to lessen the negative impacts of the youth’s migration to cities. This project “promotes the increase of agricultural productivity development of communities’ access to markets, irrigation, agricultural technologies and community infrastructure” in Bhutan’s six most remote districts. Completed in May 2018, this project has provided roads to communities that have never had them before. The roads give these communities better access to health facilities, schools and markets. Farmers are now able to use trucks to transport their goods rather than walking for days to the nearest market. This development has also contributed to the empowerment of women as a byproduct. Some women, who have never been able to make a single-day trip to the market, are even learning how to drive.

Placing greater importance on the accessibility of rural communities may be a solution to the drain of the countryside. By providing access to more modern comforts like roads and markets, the youth may be less hasty to move to the city. Greater access to these communities also helps tourism in Bhutan and creates more jobs in the countryside. The country is building more retreats and farms are expanding the variety of crops. Nonprofits like the World Wildlife Fund are working with the Bhutanese government to better fund advertising for tourism in Bhutan and make it easier for tourists to access the countryside.

Graham Gordon
Photo: Pixabay

Technological Access in Bhutan

A mountainous landlocked kingdom of 766,000 people, Bhutan has been traditionally been isolated and disconnected from the outside world for a number of centuries, with previous rulers keeping the nation as a “hermit kingdom” prior to the legalization of television and Internet in 1999. Bhutan‘s economy relies heavily on its agriculture and forestry alongside the budding hydroelectricity industry, which has proven difficult due to the mountainous terrain of the country. The country’s main trade partners are India and Bangladesh, with no known relationship with the U.S. or other major U.N. members. The legalization of the Internet in 1999, as well as investments in technological advancement in the mountainous country, is a turning point for the kingdom as the developing technological access in Bhutan is expected to bring the country to the modern era.

Internet Development

Since the Internet’s introduction in 1999, Bhutan quickly was able to quickly build its telecommunication infrastructure and have much of the country connected. Cell phone services began in 2003, with 80 percent of the population owning a cell phone as of 2018, which includes 70 percent of the population that consists of farmers, making Bhutan one of the most connected countries in the world. This jump from the days of being isolated from the world allows the people of Bhutan to communicate both within and outside of the country’s borders.

Telecommunications

The continued developing technological access in Bhutan has also seen growth through Bhutan’s own investment into its communication networks. Bhutan‘s internal ICT development includes:

  • implementing protection lines for consumer purchases
  • building stations for mobile carriers and broadcasters and expanding upon broadband connections for wireless connections and private access for citizens
  • investing in cybersecurity and strengthening the overall connection quality

The investments in the internal network lines have allowed Bhutan to quickly connect the nation at a rapid pace. However, challenges remain in terms of developing the rural areas of the country within its mountainous terrain. That said, the government is actively looking at ways to change the status quo.

The National Rehabilitation Program (NRB) and the Common Minimum Program are two examples of initiatives focused on building new facilities and roads as well as easier access to electricity and supplies. Mountain Hazelnuts, a company headquartered in Eastern Bhutan has also made major tech investments for its farms, increasing employment and supplying smartphones for hired farmers that help with directions on the road and improve communication.

Henry Elliott
Photo: Flickr

 

Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Index

The traditional tool to measure the success of a nation is by its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP refers to the total value of goods produced and services provided by a country in a given year. GDP can provide an accurate depiction of the economic success of a nation, but it does not measure true fulfillment and well-being properly. An alternative measure of success is Bhutan‘s Gross National Happiness Index.

Humble Beginnings

Bhutan’s government has a long history of striving for its peoples’ happiness. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, King of Bhutan from 1972 to 2006, made it his goal to increase the overall happiness and well-being of the Bhutanese people. The King declared that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product,” and in doing so, coined the phrase “Gross National Happiness.”

Moreover, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck developed a set of procedures that could produce an accurate measurement of happiness, Bhutan‘s Gross National Happiness Index. The concept behind the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index is that well-being should not solely be based on economic success and that development cannot be sustainable without accounting for the more holistic aspects of progress.

Gross National Happiness in Practice

Bhutan’s GNH Index consists of nine different domains: 1. Psychological well-being; 2. Health; 3. Education; 4. Time use; 5. Cultural diversity and resilience; 6. Good governance; 7. Community vitality; 8. Ecological diversity and resilience; and 9. Living standards. Including all nine domains in the overall evaluation of happiness and well-being allows for the Bhutanese government to implement policy that is designed to target the domains where improvement is needed most. The GNH Index can also be broken down by demographic groups, allowing comparison between men and women or districts. Each of the nine domains is determined by examining 33 different indicators, giving leaders a comprehensive understanding of the various aspects that contribute to well-being.

GNH is the main tool used to ensure that development does not come at the expense of the Bhutanese people. Bhutan has grown as an economic power in recent years with an increase in large-scale hydropower projects, but the downside to this growth is that many rural workers and farmers have been displaced on account of these projects. Therefore, Bhutan has made it a priority to see that GNH and GDP can grow and exist in harmony.

Growth as a Result

Since GNH was adopted as the main measure of growth in Bhutan, almost 100 percent of its children are enrolled in school and the country has nearly doubled its life expectancy. Educational policy has also been affected by GNH principles. Children now learn about agricultural practices and environmental protection alongside math and science. Meditation is also a typical part of the school day as well. In addition, the country’s waste-management program ensures that all materials used in schools are recycled.

Journalists caught wind of this small Himalayan nation committed to increasing the happiness of its people, and with increased coverage, the ideas behind Bhutan’s GNH Index spread across the world. Well-being and happiness conferences increased in almost every part of the globe, and in 2012, the UN decided to follow Bhutan’s example in taking a more holistic approach toward development, making the GNH Index their main development indicator, a decision which was backed by 68 different countries.

Thanks to Bhutan, the world’s definition of what a successful country is may be changing. While GDP is still widely used as a measure of development, the use of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index is increasing in popularity right alongside it.

– Ryley Bright
Photo: Flickr

Education in Bhutan
Nestled underneath the economic powerhouse of China, the Himalayan nation of Bhutan boasts a diverse population that works across the agricultural, industrial and service industries. The service industries command 22 percent of the labor force. Because of this multifaceted workforce, Bhutan’s unemployment rate mulled around 3.2 percent in both 2016 and 2017, while approximately one-eighth of the population lives below the global poverty line. Despite these impressive numbers, education in Bhutan is the one arena where the country suffers. The predominant issue is whether the nation can provide an adequate, consistent education.

The creation of school systems, both public and private, has a tremendous effect on poverty reduction. According to the Global Partnership for Education, approximately 420 million people would be out of poverty if sufficient secondary education were available to them.

Governmental Infrastructure and Plans

That said, the Bhutanese government has made substantial progress in increasing access to and improving education in Bhutan. Education starts with teachers and professors, and over the past year, Bhutan has seen a 4 percent drop in the number of teachers. In an effort to combat this stark drop and in an attempt to decrease unemployment among the young adult population, Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and his government decided to double the salaries of teachers who remain in the profession for 10 or more years, thus making teaching the highest-paid civil service profession in Bhutan. In addition to this pay-raise, Prime Minister Tshering stated that his government hopes to provide career advancement for teachers, which would, in turn, lead to vast educational improvements.

The increased salary occurs at the midway point of the country’s 10-year educational reform, which aims to improve quality of and access to education in Bhutan. The Bhutan Educational Blueprint is comprised of eight different shifts, all with this central goal in mind. A few of the core tenants of these shifts (and the blueprint in total) include:

  • Improving overall access to education in Bhutan (including secondary and tertiary education)
  • Establishing a more modern, well-rounded curriculum
  • Elevating student performance to international standards
  • Making teaching a more desirable vocation
  • Maintaining the standards of high-performing schools and teachers once met

The Implementation of the Plans

Furthermore, the Bhutan government plans to dole these eight shifts out slowly over the course of three distinct waves, lasting years. The first wave, which ended in 2017, focused primarily on laying the groundwork and preparing the nation for extensive educational overhauls. The second wave, which will end in 2020, is concerned with building upon what Bhutan has established – improving access to tertiary education, rolling out new curricula and implementing new educational pathways. The third and final wave will turn to fortifying the newly established systems, guaranteeing quality education in Bhutan.

Combining this educational blueprint with increased teacher salaries is an incredible first step in improving education in Bhutan. Furthermore, these raises should help guarantee an all-important component of education: trained professionals prepared to teach the next generation of professionals, innovators and leaders in order to hopefully reduce poverty and unemployment rates even further.

– Colin Petersdorf
Photo: Flickr

PA Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Bhutan
Bhutan is only slightly larger than the state of Maryland, but the predominantly Buddhist nation holds a powerful place both in history and the future. For centuries, the Kingdom of Bhutan remained independent and resisted colonization. Though the country joined the United Nations in 1971 and began facilitating foreign tourism in 1974, Bhutan’s government has remained committed to its legacy of autonomy. In 2008, the country gained fame with its enactment of Gross National Happiness (GNH), a philosophy and an index which monitors collective well-being. These top 10 facts about living conditions in Bhutan show how quickly the country has developed since the first road was paved in 1961, opening the way to modernization.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Bhutan

  1. Poverty rates are dropping every year. In 2007, 23 percent of the population lived in poverty. In just five years, the number fell by half, and as of 2017, only 8.2 percent of the population lived below the national poverty line. Extreme poverty is nearly nonexistent, affecting less than 2 percent of the population. Despite these achievements, there is a disparity between rural and urban areas. Rural areas have a poverty rate of 11 percent while fewer than 1 percent of urban dwellers live in poverty.
  2. Bhutan’s economy is consistently growing. While agriculture is the main livelihood for 54 percent of Bhutanese people, the economy is also based on forestry, tourism and the sale of hydroelectric power (mostly to India). The GDP has skyrocketed from $0.14 billion in 1980 to $2.51 billion in 2017, and the economy’s average growth between 2006 and 2015 was 7.5 percent.
  3. Unemployment hits youth the hardest. Though the country’s unemployment rate is only 2.1 percent, 13.2 percent of youth (15 to 24 years old) are unemployed. Bhutan’s growing economy is largely driven by the hydropower sector, but the industry does not guarantee enough jobs for the growing population. Institutions like the World Bank recommend that Bhutan invest more in the private sector in order to diversify the economy and combat youth unemployment.
  4. Access to clean water is becoming a basic right. Over 98 percent of the population has access to improved drinking water, a huge success when compared to past decades. Improved water sources, however, do not always equate to safe drinking water. The Royal Center for Disease Control tested more than 5,000 water samples and found that only 44.3 percent were safe to drink. Still, the government remains committed to improving water quality for its citizens, and in 2016, developed the Bhutan Drinking Water Quality Standard.
  5. Public healthcare is free. Healthcare is a basic human right in Bhutan. Life expectancy is now 70 years old, a stark difference compared to the 1960s when life expectancy was 37 years old and only two hospitals existed in the country. Bhutan now has 28 hospitals, 156 basic health clinics and 654 outreach clinics. Nine out of 10 women have their children in hospitals or healthcare facilities, and the child survival rate is 93 percent.
  6. Seventy-six percent of the population is happy. According to the Bhutan Living Standards Report of 2017, more than 40 percent of the population is moderately or very happy. Every five years, 8,000 households are randomly selected to take a 3-hour-long happiness survey, with questions ranging from health, education, psychological well being, community vitality, etc. Participants are compensated for a day’s worth of work, likely increasing happiness.
  7. Education rates are low but rising. Bhutan has developed dramatically in the last decades, and education rates are reflecting this change. As of 2017, 95 percent of the population had completed primary school and 70 percent completed secondary school. Progress was slower because education is not compulsory, but primary and secondary education rates have drastically increased. In 1988, only 25 percent of the population had completed primary school, and still less (5 percent) got a secondary school education.
  8. Bhutan is committed to conservation and sustainability. Bhutan is the only carbon negative country in the world. Its constitution mandates that 60 percent of its land remains forested, an area that absorbs more carbon than the country produces. However, modern times have brought new struggles in regards to conservation. As the economy and population grow, more strain is put on the environment. WWF Bhutan Country Representative Dechen Dorji explains that “We need to balance the need for economic development – like hydropower and tourism – with the need to protect natural resources.”
  9. There are no McDonald’s in Bhutan. Though it sounds funny, this fact is symbolic of Bhutan’s commitment to protecting its cultural heritage and way of life. Bhutan understands that foreign influence is inevitable, but the country seeks to strike a balance between modernization, foreign investment and tradition. Consequently, Bhutan follows a “high value, low impact” tourism policy, which requires tourists to spend between $200 and $250 each day. This controls the influx of tourists and guarantees investment in the country.
  10. Bhutan is the 27th least-corrupt country in the world. According to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, out of 168 countries, Bhutan is one of the least corrupt. Bribes are almost nonexistent in the court system, and only 1 percent of companies feel that the courts inhibit business. Furthermore, as citizens of one of the youngest democracies in the world, Bhutanese people are guaranteed freedom of speech and of the press, which allows government corruption to be critiqued and exposed by the media.

Sustainable development and investment in health, education and happiness have set Bhutan up for a bright future. These top 10 facts about living conditions in Bhutan demonstrate the country’s commitment to growth and collective well-being. There is still room for improvement, and by partnering with institutions like the World Bank and allying with local nonprofits like the Bhutan Youth Development Fund, Bhutan is addressing its development goals on all fronts.

– Kate McIntosh
Photo: Flickr

Hydropower Projects in Bhutan
Bhutan, despite its infinitesimal size, has recently found itself developing at breakneck speed. Regarded as Asia’s fastest growing economy, Bhutan is on the upswing with its GDP expected to grow by 11.1 percent between 2017 and 2019 — much more than its neighboring nations are presumed to expand in the same bracket of time, such as Ethiopia (8.7 percent) and India (7.73 percent). These projections beg the question: what is the driving force behind the betterment of the economy in Bhutan?

Hydropower Projects in Bhutan

Hydropower has proven to be at a climacteric point in the Bhutanese economy; the Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay, listed it as one of Bhutan’s “Five Jewels” in 2014 specifically for this reason. “Indeed, the past fiscal year saw hydropower accounting for 32.4 percent of the country’s total exports and 8 percent of its GDP,” reported Alexander Jones of the International Banker, “with the construction of three projects, in particular, helping to push GDP growth to 6.5 percent last year.”

Similar projects have helped trim the nation’s trade deficit, in turn greatly benefit the economy of Bhutan.

Diplomacy with India

Two times, once in 2006 and again in 2009 (a renewal, of sorts, of the original accord), Bhutan and India co-signed an agreement regarding the hydroelectric industry. This agreement called for Indian assistance in the development of hydropower projects.

Three of these projects, developed under an intergovernmental model, have come to fruition: Punatsangchhu HEP I and II, and Mangdechhu HEP. The projects that began beneath this intergovernmental system are entirely financed by the Indian government.

Projects Working for Change

Six more similar tasks were born of a joint venture model, though only one — Kholongchhu HEP — has seen the light of day, as of now. These developments are part of the larger scheme outlined in the agreement: to establish 10,000 megawatts worth of hydropower by the year 2020.

The consummation of these projects is expected to double Bhutan’s hydropower generation from 1,600 megawatts to over 5,200 megawatts in the span of a decade. An estimated 80 percent of this power would be sent to India, with the remainder being consumed domestically.

Soon enough, India may not be Bhutan’s only partner in the field of hydropower. Bangladesh has offered $1 billion to establish a hydropower project of their own in Bhutan’s Lhuentse district, worth 1,125 megawatts. This power would be channeled to Bangladesh through India.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

This trilateral effort was sent to both India and Bangladesh by Bhutan in early 2016. While Bangladesh accepted the memorandum, although making slight amendments, it took India a year to agree, eventually returning the agreement in early 2017.

India is also Bhutan’s “largest trading partner” according to the Economic Times, with exports making up 90 percent of the country’s trade, and imports similarly constituting 82 percent. Besides hydropower, the economy in Bhutan thrives in exporting metals, chemical products, food, wood and rubber.

Hydropower projects in Bhutan are an example of win-win cooperation,” wrote S.K. Sinha for the Kootneeti. As long as nations work together, clean and inexpensive energy in India can help all peoples and economies involved. 

– Jordan De La Fuente
Photo: Flickr