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Urban poverty: Stark realities
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Bhutan's commercial hub - Phuentsholing in an urban dilemma
Kabreytar: Phuentsholing's fastest growing suburb
Phuentsholing, Bhutan's commercial hub, is one of fastest growing towns in Bhutan. High concentration of people and vehicles almost rub each other for space. The space problem is also aggravated by the growth of the neighbouring border town of Jaigaon.
But, in the past few years, some sections of the town's population have drifted away from the city limits, acquired vast stretches of land in the suburbs and constructed big buildings.

One such place is Kabretar, about five kilometres from the town centre with only a dirt road leading towards it. A stranger in the town would have no idea that the stony and pot-holed road led to a cluster of high-rise buildings and plush bungalows quietly nestled within the once thick undergrowth. Kabretar, once a quiet place, has become a beehive of activity.


Phuentsholing, Bhutan's commercial hub

Kabretar's growth

In Kabretar scores of labourers from Jaigaon are engaged in constructing new buildings, some complete and some halfway. In the early 70s Kabretar was teeming with citrus mandarin orchard but by the end of the seventies , the productivity from the orchards decreased and villagers resorted to farming. Framers plant dal, maize, gingers and wild potatoes. But by the early late eighties most of the villagers in Kabretar found it easier to sell some portions of their lands and live off the proceeds. A lot of farmers sold their land. And as a testimony the single-storied house, built at a cost of about Nu 1,800 in 1978, still stands strong. Within a short span of time the price of land in Kabretar sky-rocketed, from about Nu 1,300 for half an acre in 1974 to about Nu 6,000 a decimal today. Farmers built instead of single-story house a new double-storied building by selling their land. Their buildings are rented out to eager tenants.

The high rent and shortage of apartments in the Phuentsholing proper is another reason behind the growth of Kabretar where many people come seeking cheap accommodation. "I pay Nu 3,000 for my place while the same would cost nearly double in Phuentsholing," said one of the tenants. Another said that he was willing to travel the long and dusty road everyday because the rent, Nu 2,500 for two rooms, a kitchen and a toilet, was a good bargain. Meanwhile, the dzongkhag has stopped further constructions until soil stability and other necessary surveys are done. "There are more than 20 buildings and bungalows in Kabretar as of now but I can bet that many more would come up in the near future," said an old resident of Kabretar. "Changes are wont to happen but I never knew it would be this fast and in this manner," he added.


Urban poverty: Stark realities

An urban poverty study undertaken recently says that although there is little or no abject poverty in the country, urban poverty is an emerging phenomenon in Bhutan. The study carried out by the ministry of communications and the central statistical organisation along with a Danish consultancy firm states that migrants from rural areas constitute the bulk of the poor and low-income group in urban areas. The draft report highlights the high rate of rural urban migration, shortage and rising cost of land and housing, and lack of sufficient urban services as conditions that breed urban poverty. According to the report, the urban poor are also vulnerable to eviction and loss of livelihood.

In Thimphu, among the 140 households covered during the survey, 43 percent of school children had completed primary education while 40 percent were illiterate. In Phuentsholing, however, 65 percent of the children were illiterate. The report, which is divided into quantitative and qualitative parts, states that the qualitative part consists of interviews with three categories of people - key informants, the focus group, and case studies. The draft report further states that "the case studies do not claim to be representative of poverty study in Bhutan."

"Case studies are part of the qualitative input which have been selected in a way that focuses on characteristics of poverty and how society has reacted to the behavior of poor individuals or groups," it says. The case studies are respondents' perception of poverty and the report says that "what people tell may not be in agreement with the rules and regulations of the country." Six enumerators had carried out the survey in a total of 240 households in Thimphu and Phuentsholing.

Contributed by KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper
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