Zero Hunger in Bhutan
Bhutan, a small agricultural country in the eastern Himalayas between India and China, has come a long way in its war on poverty as the country has halved its poverty rates — from 23.4 percent to 12.04 percent in five years.

The launching of a five-year program in 1961 and the establishment of a national airline in 1983 spurred economic development, ensured equitability and environmental sustainability for the country; however, research on the health and nutritional status of Bhutanese children is lacking.

A substantial amount of work needs to be done to target malnutrition and hunger in Bhutan, especially among young and school-aged children.

UNICEF Regional Goodwill Ambassador and Bollywood actor Aamir Khan notes, “While Bhutan has made amazing progress in areas of health and nutrition, there’s still work to be done and every child is yet to be reached.”

Moreover, according to a report by BMC Pediatrics, 47.7 percent of young children at the age of six to 59 months are stunted, 34.9 percent of preschool children are facing malnutrition and 10.4 percent are underweight.

These rates of stunting require significant attention in Bhutan’s efforts in alleviating poverty, as malnutrition at an early age can lead to many functional consequences including poor cognition and educational performance, low adult wages and loss of productivity. These consequences also affect and slow down the development of the nation’s economic infrastructure in the future.

As a member of the U.N., Bhutan has agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals in which Goal Two strives to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” By 2030, there are hopes that there will be zero malnutrition and hunger in Bhutan.

Moreover, the World Food Program (WFP) is working to combat child malnutrition by encouraging school enrollment and attendance through a development project called “Improving Rural Children’s Access to Basic Education with a Focus on Primary Education.”

The WFP provides school meals to children to combat child malnutrition and encourage school enrollment and attendance, supporting the country’s development plan to reduce poverty. This initiative will also help relieve the financial burden on poor rural parents.

WFP Bhutan encourages teaching various methods to students to break the inter-generational cycle of malnutrition. This is accomplished by training teachers at the College of Natural Resources (CNR) for agriculture and nutrition coupled with the School Agriculture Program (SAP).

Piet Vochten, the head of WFP in Bhutan explained, “We want to educate every child on agriculture and nutrition so that they are able to grow into healthy adults who will have healthy and well-nourished children to break the inter-generational cycle of hunger and poverty.”

Although Bhutan has made drastic improvements in its poverty rates over the last few decades, malnutrition and hunger in Bhutan must be addressed in order to secure the progression and growth of the economy.

Priscilla Son

Photo: Flickr

hunger in bhutan

Malnutrition and hunger in Bhutan is nothing new for the country or its policy makers. Although there has been a dramatic decrease in underweight children at the national level, many rural-urban disparities still exist. The Bhutan Living Standards Survey demonstrated that the eastern and southern regions face a higher degree of seasonal food deficit than the westernmost parts of the region. An estimated 37 percent of children showed signs of stunted growth, while almost 5 percent were deemed too thin for their age group.

Starting in 1974, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been helping alleviate hunger and poverty by implementing feeding projects specifically aimed at school children. Currently, the level of assistance has increased and more focus has been directed toward health, agriculture, dietary development and irrigation.

According to the WFP, roughly one-third of the Bhutanese population suffers from food insecurity. High rates of malnutrition are often seen in remote villages, where poverty is overwhelming. An estimated 12 percent of the population is considered poor. In addition, lack of access to markets and essential health services proves detrimental to the welfare of Bhutanese living in the countryside. This common occurrence is due to the high amount of natural disasters in the country. Floods and storms remain a hindrance to receiving adequate food supply, and since the Bhutanese rely heavily on agriculture, it produces a cycle of poverty and starvation.

To combat the ongoing crisis, the United Nations Development Programme has established multiple school interventions to address the problems associated with hunger in Bhutan. In collaboration with the Royal Government of Bhutan, the school feeding projects provide over 41,000 students in rural boarding schools with two meals a day. UNDP also lends assistance to raise agricultural productivity for rural farmers, as well as find jobs off the farm as a poverty reduction strategy.

With all these programs, Bhutan has seen a 24 percent decrease in poverty since 2000. Although rural areas still have a much higher percentage of the population living with food insecurity and malnutrition, the rates are much lower than in 2000. Thus the first Millenium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 is looking like a more realistic goal for Bhutan.

Leeda Jewayni

Sources: UN, UNDP, The Examiner, World Food Programme, World Food Programme 2
Photo: Flickr