Bhutan - Poverty and wealth

From the 1960s free basic health services began to be provided by the government across most of Bhutan where populations were concentrated. Nonetheless, by 2000 the UNDP estimated that 20 percent of the population still lacked sufficient access to health services.

GDP per Capita US$
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Bhutan N/A 232 292 387 493
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
China 138 168 261 349 727
Nepal 149 148 165 182 217
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

Lack of health care is a serious drawback because the general diet lacks sufficient fruits and vegetables. Consequently, over half of the country's children 6 and younger suffer from stunting, and over 30 percent are underweight. Poor nutrition is not nation wide, however, but determined by regional, urban-rural, and socio-economic factors. For example, in Pemagatshel average calorie consumption per day is 1,647 whereas in Punakha it is 3,227.

The incidence of rural poverty is as high as 90 percent. Unhygienic conditions are prevalent in Bhutan with 42 percent of the population lacking access to safe water and 30 percent of the people living in conditions of poor sanitation. Nonetheless, poverty in Bhutan has declined as indicated by the rise of average life expectancy from 37 years in 1960 to 66 years in 1994. The increased longevity suggests that the consistent government policy of providing a socially oriented infrastructure, in accordance with the GNH concept, is effective even though much work remains to be done.

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