15 May 2015, Thimphu: The 2015 Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific was launched in Bhutan yesterday. This annual flagship publication of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) shows mixed progress with significant reductions in extreme poverty, but with rising income inequality and slow growth in productivity and decent employment.
In her video statement, Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, stressed that “to enhance well-being, countries need to go beyond just focusing on ‘inequality of income’ and instead promote ‘equality of opportunities’.”
Mr. Vatcharin Sirimaneetham from ESCAP presented the highlights from the report, and highlighted how economic growth is necessary, but not sufficient, for achieving inclusive development.
Also in Bhutan, while the economy has been growing, inequalities remain. According to Dasho Karma Ura from the Centre of Bhutan Studies and GNH Research, in Bhutan the richest quintile – the top 20 percent – consumes over 7 times more than the poorest quintile.
To tackle inequality, ESCAP advocates for more development-oriented public expenditures, such as enhancing access to quality education and healthcare, and strengthening social safety nets as a way to break the cycle of poverty.
“We have recently seen in our region how in just a few hours, natural disasters reverse development gains that have taken many years to achieve. Similarity, a sudden illness or an accident may derail the well-being and livelihood of individuals and their families,” said Ms. Carlson, Resident Coordinator for the UN system in Bhutan. “Comprehensive social protection strategies and safety nets are crucial in reducing vulnerability and strengthening resilience of local communities and individuals to cope with risks, such as natural disasters and economic shocks.”
Ms. Carlson said: “Everyone has a right to a decent standard of living, and to protection from difficult circumstances that may be beyond their control – such as lack of employment, maternity, sickness, disability, or old age.” She concluded by noting that such rights are not only enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also in the Constitution of Bhutan.
In the Q&A session, participants raised questions on more comprehensive social protection and Bhutan’s expected graduation from Least Developed Country status, potentially by 2020. The need for better, disaggregated data was also called for, as information for many indicators in the survey were lacking from Bhutan.