MDGs – Bhutan’s progress report is good but…

…there is an urgency to secure long term sustainable financing arrangements and capacity building

Baby blues – Inadequate levels of skilled birth attendance affect maternal mortality

29 September, 2008 – Bhutan has made significant and sustained progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and is potentially on track to achieve them all. As world leaders gathered for a high level event on MDG at the UN Summit in New York, a technical report prepared by UN agencies in Bhutan and the government stated that several targets had been realised in the country’s commitment to achieving the MDGs by 2015.

“Bhutan’s progress in reducing poverty from 36.3 percent in 2000 to 23.2 percent in 2007 keeps it well on track to achieve the MDG,” stated the report. This has been matched by reductions in human poverty, as measured by the HPI-1 index, which declined by 19 percent over the same period, largely on account on improvements in enhancing access to improved drinking water sources and reducing child malnutrition. “While there has been highly satisfactory progress towards reducing income and human poverty, there are concerns over the considerable spatial income disparities and human poverty levels across and within regions.”

Several targets, such as reducing malnutrition among children and halving those without access to safe drinking water and safe sanitation, have already been realised. The country is close to realising the target of reducing the number of poor by half and has had exceptional success in arresting the growing disease burdens of malaria and tuberculosis.

However, there are certain targets that require attention. The recent increase in food poverty, gender disparities in tertiary education, low representation of women in national parliament and their weak participation in national decision making processes are some of the targets that need close attention. The report also identifies inadequate levels of skilled birth attendance, that affect maternal mortality, low contraceptive prevalence rates, rising number of HIV/AIDS cases and rising youth unemployment requiring attention. “There are also challenges and constraints, such as spatial disparities on MDG progress across and within regions, pressing resource needs to finance MDG interventions and the significant impact of climate change.”

Bhutan is on track towards reducing hunger having decreased, by half, the level of malnutrition among under-five children. Although food poverty affects only 5.9% of the population, this has increased from 3.8% since 2003.

For the goal of achieving universal primary education, Bhutan has rapidly scaled up its gross and net enrollment for primary education and improved its primary school completion rates, that will see it comfortably achieve the goal before 2015. “There’s virtual gender equality in primary enrollment levels,” the report stated. Challenges remain in expanding access, improving the quality of education and resource needs.

Bhutan is also on track to achieve the MDG health targets, relating to reducing by one-third the infant and under-five mortality rates and maintaining immunisation coverage at above 90%. But low level of skilled birth attendance, 56 percent, is regarded to be a critical challenge. While notable achievements were made in mitigating the disease burden of malaria and tuberculosis, rising spread of HIV/AIDS cases remains a concern.

On the Environmental Sustainability goals, Bhutan continues to maintain a high level of forest cover, an important indicator for biodiversity conservation. The country continues to maintain 29 percent of the total land area as protected areas. Bhutan has a small carbon footprint and a relatively clean energy matrix because of its vast forest coverage, which acts as a carbon sink.

Bhutan is also an early achiever with regard to its targets for the provisioning of water and sanitation coverage in the country, with levels envisaged to approach near universal coverage by 2015.

The country’s dependence on natural resources and the rapid economic development are seen as a potential challenge to environmental sustainability. Land degradation, potential biodiversity habitat loss, high fuelwood consumption, environmental impact of road construction, mitigating wildlife and human conflict, maintenance and rehabilitation of existing rural water and sanitation schemes, waste management and vulnerability to climate change impacts are some of the issues. “At the heart of these challenges,” sums up the report, “lies the urgency of securing long term sustainable financing arrangements and capacity building, without which past gains on the environmental front could be severely compromised.”

Source: Kuensel

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