Fast tracking poverty alleviation

Mid-Term Review 17 February, 2011 – In what could be welcome news for those living in the country’s poorest dzongkhag, a new target has been set to uplift their living standard.

Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley, during Zhemgang’s mid-term review on Tuesday said the dzongkhag’s poverty rate, which was at 52.9 percent today, should be brought down to 15 percent by the end of the current plan.

The initial target set was at 44 percent.

“This is not acceptable,” said Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y Thinley. “It means of every 10 households in Zhemgang, about five to six were in poverty.”

The poverty rate was highest in Phangkhar gewog, about 64.17 percent, and lowest in Trong gewog at 33.28 percent.

He said bringing it down to 15 percent was not an impossible task, provided all local leaders and dzongkhag officials worked towards achieving all the development programs on time.

But it was not going to be an easy task. Only four of the eight gewogs, namely Nangkhor, Ngangla, Shingkhar and Trong were connected by roads. These comprised 36km feeder road, 83.05km farm road and six kilometre power tiller track.

As for the rest of the gewogs, while road constructions were yet to begin for some, those who started have met with brick walls.

Dzongkhag officials said road connection going from Buli to Nimshong has been delayed because of alignment errors committed by the contractor. Road to Joga was yet to take off, with complicated landscapes making it difficult for engineers to decide the starting point.

However, the prime minister said the road connection was key to all development works and should be given priority to be finished as soon as possible.

Connecting villages with electricity was also not in a smooth mode, with scattered settlements in the dzongkhag posing numerous problems.

Only two gewogs, Nangkor and Trong were connected with electricity, while Ngangla gewog was provided with generators.

“The cost of power connection in Zhemgang is high compared to other dzongkhags,” said the prime minister. “When it cost about Nu 120,000 for each household in other dzongkhags, it cost over Nu 166,000 to connect a house here,” he said.

In terms of telecommunication coverage, although it has reached all the eight gewogs, gups pointed out some places being away from the network and the lack of electricity, thus depriving villagers the facility to charge their phones, made it less beneficial.

As a solution, the representative from Bhutan Telecom said they would provide solar batteries in village centres to enable people to recharge batteries.

Meanwhile, local leaders raised concerns about the Yebilabtsa hospital remaining unused.

The district health officer Sonam Dorji, backed by the Zhemgang dzongda, said it would be wise to keep the hospital.

He said Yebilabtsa will become more of a centre after the Pangbang highway passing through Gongphu and connecting Nganglam-Trongsa highway was completed.

“It’ll be more useful in future, more beneficial than setting up a new hospital in the main town,” said the health officer.

The meeting ended with everyone agreeing on keeping the hospital, which would be re-equipped.

By Samten Yeshi

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