Development in Bhutan

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uppladdat: 2000-10-22
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Bhutan – an introduction

Size: 46 500 sqkm

Population (1998): 618 000 (Bhutaneese statistics)

1 900 000 (Statistics from the UN)

Capital (1993): Thimphu (30 340 inhabitants)

Inh/sqkm (1998): 13 (Bhutaneese statistics)

41 (Statistics from the UN)

People living in the cities (1997): 13%

Natural growth of population (1994): 2,3%

Averiage length of life (1996): Men – 57 years

Women – 63 years

Illiteracy (1995): 42%

Ethnic groups (1990): Ngalop and Sharchop (55%)

Nepaleese (35%)

Others (10%)

Language: Dzongkha is official language

Religion: Buddism (70%)

Hinduism (25%)

Islam (5%)

Access to water (1982): 5,5%

Head of state/parliament: King Jigme Singye Wangchuk (1972-)

Political parties: No legal parties in Bhutan

Defence: 6000 men in 1996

GDP/cap (1995): $166

Sectors of GDP: Agriculture (41%)

Industry (22%)

Service and others (37%)

Export / Import (1994-1995): $71 000 000 / $113 000 000

Most important trade-partners: India and Bangladesh

Currency: 1 ngultrum = 100 chetrum

Emplyees within the three sectors: Agriculture (93%)

Service (5%)

Industry (2%)

Unemployment: n/a

Bordering countries: China (Tibet) and India

Kings: Ugyen Wangchuk 1907-1926

Jigme Wangchuk 1926-1952

Jigme Dorje Wangchuk 1952-1972

Jigme Singye Wangchuk 1972-

Kousouzangpo n Druk-Yul

That was dzongkha, the official language of Bhutan, and it says ”Hello and welcome to Bhutan”

I’m sure that you guys doesn’t know about Bhutan. The most of you haven’t heard anything about it, right? Or where it’s situated?

Well, Bhutan is a small kingdom located between India and China in the Himalayas and the highest peak in Bhutan, Gangar Punsum, reaches 7561 metres above the sea level. The major part of the country consists of mountains and forrests

The biggest ethnic groups are ngalop, sharchop and nepaleese. The ngalops are originally from Tibet and they are the one that has the major positions within politics and culture.

The largest ethnic group is the sharchop and they are from India and Burma originally.

In the southern parts of Bhutan the nepaleeses live. The first nepaleeses came to Bhutan in the end of the 19th century and the immigration went on until 1959 when it was forbidden by the Bhutaneese government.

Since the end of the 1980’s there’s a open conflict between the ngalop/sharchop and the nepaleeses.

Before 1988 there were three official languages in Bhutan; Dzongkha, English and Nepali. But in 1988 Dzonghka became the only official language as the king wanted Bhutan to keep the traditions. The people also was told to dress in the traditional clothes and to build their houses in a traditional way.

It has a low population and due to the United Nations, the population is almost 2 millions. But due to the Butaneese statistics the population is only 618 000.

The capital, Timphu, is located in the western part of the country and it has about 30 000 inhabitants.

There is one international airport in Bhutan, and it’s located in Paro. But it only flies to two destinations, Calcutta in India and Kathmandu in Nepal.

During the years Bhutan has been under many different rulers. The first ”nation” that got it’s influence over Bhutan was Tibet. Also India, UK and China has had Bhutan under it’s protection. Ever since the time when Bhutan was populated, 2000-1500 before Christ, it has been governed by many different rulers.

But in 1904 Bhutan became a monarchy and in 1907 Ugyen Wangchuk was elected as the first king of the Kingdom of Bhutan. And the present king of Bhutan is the fourth in the family of Wangchuk.

As always, the British people, were involved in Bhutan. They were some kind of guardians for Bhutan from the 18th century. This started conflicts by the Bhutaneese and in 1910 UK and Bhutan hade peace. The Brittish people agreed that they shouldn’t be a part of the domestic politics in Bhutan. But only as long as Bhutan followed UK in the foreign politics. So this led to that Bhutan was, with the exception of UK, isolated for almost 50 years and when India became independent in 1947, they became the new guardians for Bhutan.

But since 1971, when Bhutan became members of the United Nations they are getting more independent and isn’t that dependent in India any more. And in 1981 they became members of the World Bank.

Until the 1960’s there were no modern roads, hospitals, electricity or mail-system in Bhutan but when the third king Jigme Dorij Wangchuk became king he started to modernize Bhutan. And that’s what my subject is about…

Until recently, the small Kingdom of Bhutan has remained isolated from the rest of the world. But this is something they have decided to be by them selves. The kings of Bhutan have chosen to be this because of two major reasons:

First, the kings wants to keep all the traditions in the sountry and not being influenced by other countries. For example the tourism has almost been forbidden.

But the four kings of Bhutan that has been in the power since the independence, also choosed this way of ruling the country to look at other countries in the world and learning from their mistakes.

So when other countries all over the world were under development, Bhutan stood still and its people continued to live their traditional lifestyle.

But during the reign of king Jigme Dorij Wangchuk, Bhutan started to develop its economy. It all started in 1961 when a series of development programs were launched in Bhutan and these plans were to be reviewed and implemented on a five year cycle. The main reason for theese programs were to raise the incomes and improve the welfare in Bhutan.

And during the past 30 years there has been a steady change in the social and economic situation.

Before 1961 the Bhutaneese were mainly farmers who traded goods with each other. But after 1961 this system was transformed into a modern monetary system.

(OH #3)

Other figures shows that in 1960 there were 0 cars and in 1990 there were 7000 and in 1960 there wera almost no motor roads while in 1990 this number had increased to 2280 km.

But also the welfare has increased rapidly with 59 schools in 1960 (where all of them were monestary-schools) and 240 in 1990.

(OH #4)

As you can see the changes in Bhutan has chaged rapidly and is getting even better every year that passes. Two thirds of the people now has access to regular medical facilities. Clean drinking water supply and smoke free stoves are also widely spread in the country.

In almost all developing countries three factors – population growth, poverty and environmental degradation – interacts as a vicious circle which slows forward planning. Many of those countries are witnessing a decline in their economies as well as ecological degradation.

But as Bhutan started later with the development they had the advantage of closely observing the problems of modernisation that are confronting these countries and has noted with alarm some of the effects.

As Bhutan wont do something that damages the environment very much they have pu extra efforts and carefully studies in the changes of population, forest cover, livestock, water resources, roads, urbanisation, pollution, tourism, economic development and industry in other developing countries.


As I said before the average inhabitant per every square kilometer in Bhutan is over 40 but if you calculates inhabitans per square kilometers on the areas that can be cultivated you get a number over 200 persons and if the birth rate countinues as it does today, the population of Bhutan will be doubled within 36 years and then Bhutan will facing problems with the arable land.

Bhutan is different from other developing countries in one imortant way. Most of the farmland is owned by the women. The women has a very big status in the Bhutanese society.

Almost all of the food that the farmers gets up from the soil is used for the family and a lot of the things are returned into the soil, just to keep a sustainable ecosystem.

But when it comes to the future ther is some problems for Bhutan. At present Bhutan has very few landless farmers and unemployed people. The government provides free education and medical services and drinking water facilities. However, if the present rate of growth is allowed it will very soon be difficult to maintain a healthy environment and a balance between arable land and the population which depends on it.

Forest cover

The forests of Bhutan covers almost 60% of the ountry and the people have in average free access to the forrest. But this causes of course that the forrests are decreasing and some studies between 1978 and 1988 shows that the annual lost of forrests are 0,33%

But this number will probably increase a lot in the future due to the rapid growth of population and the rapid increase of livestock.

The farmers in Bhutan depends a lot of the forest. They have a relatively free access to the forests and over 90% of the population depend on the forest for their fuelwood. But also the non-wood products are collected from the forests. Non-wood products are such as bamboo and medical plants.


There’s an old Bhutanese saying: ”a farmer without cattle os a poor farmer”. As in many African countries one way to meassure the welth of the families are the number of cattle it owns.

Almost all of the rural households in Bhutan owns cattle. They are used as drought animals, for daily supplies such as cheese and butter and their manure is mixed with leaves to fertilise the soil.

The government of Bhutan is faced with two problems when it comes to the question of cattle. But the problem is that these two problems contradict one another. The cattle are destructive to the forrests and soils but they are also an economic investment for the families. And as most of the Bhutanese are Buddhists and the Buddhist religion forbids direct butchering of livestock. So there seems little chance for reducing the number of livestock in the near future.

Water resources

Bhutan has a very rich water resources in from of the ground water, springs, lakes and the monsoon rains.

But even this resource is at risk from development. The freshness of the water for drinking it is threatened by pollution from towns and larger settlements. Deforestaion and bad agricultural practices will disturb the natural flow of water and upset the plans for getting energy from water.


The rapid development of a system of a road has helped open up rural areas of Bhutan for modernisation. But the raods has also caused problems. The process of building them across steep mountain slopes has resulted in many landslides, particulary during the monsoon season. But also the vibrations from cars and the earthquakes causes landslides that block or destroy the roads.

Urbanisation and pollution

The concept of urbanisation is new in Bhutan. And the problems with pollution are at present very small. This is due to the small population, the few industries and the urbanisation is at an early stage.

But also here, there’s signs for futural problems and some are already appering. Non-biodegradable products, such as plastics, cans and glass are to be found along tracks near urban areas.

Tourism and migration

The tourism to Bhutan was totally forbidden untill the early 1970’s when Bhutan opened their doors to the rest of the world. When tourism where allowed many teachers, advisers and labourers came to the country. But they brought with them habits, styles of dress, religion and ways of thinking wich wasn’t very fitting for the Bhutanese society. The media, such as video, cinema, television and magazines, have played a major role in bringing new ideas to Bhutan.

Bhutanese culture has been affected by all the new things during the past 30 years but the government encourages the people to wear traditional clothes.

The job opportunities that have been created by the development, the healthy and unspoiled environment, the variety of climate and the chance to get new agricultural land from the forests have attracted people from neighbouring countries to come, especially Nepal. The high growth rate of Bhutan’s population is partly due to illegal immigrants.


Bhutan is a poor country and like most of the developing countries, its economy is based on agriculture. But compared to many other developing countries Bhutan has avoided the dept trap.

But Bhutan is facing another similar problem as they are very dependent on donors and aid from foreign countries. India is the most important country when it comes to foreign aid but Denmark also has an important role.


The government has woked hard to establish industries in Bhutan that can make the country earn money. By 1989 there were seven kinds of industires in Bhutan; mining, manufacturing, food-processing, textiles and clothing, wood and paper, chemical production and minerals. The biggest one is the industry that takes care of textiles and clothing, there are over 110 industries. The samllest one is food processing with only 10 industries.

Most of the industries are private owned.

But as all other topics I’ve been talking about, the industries also causes problems fro Bhutan. The cement and wood processing plants are alreday damaging their surroundings by pollution and the overuse of forrests causes landslides and some of this damage may be irreversible.

What does development mean for Bhutan?

The purpose for the development in Bhutan is of course to give the greatest possible happiness for the people. Many people in the government is now concerned about future generations.

The changes in income, consumption, economic situation and lifestyle that came with the development have created an appetite for material goods in Bhutan. This has led to:

 More intensive forest use than ever before

 An increase in the number of livestockand in the area used for farming

 The replacement of green fields with towns and cities.

Many developing countries in the world have encouraged tourism as a way of earning foreign currency. Bhutan made the decission to restrict the tourism and still today there’s a restriction that say that at maximum 3000 tourists are allowed to come to the country every year.

What is being done in Bhutan today?

During the last years the Bhutanese government has adopted a policy to make ensure that the development is sustainable and will remain so in the future.

For example they have put a limitation on the exploitation of natural recources.

A policy was formed in 1990 by the governments of Bhutan and Denmark and the United Nations Development Program that says that the development programs will continue but future sustainability is ensured.

Bhutan has adopted a population planning system. There are incentives for parents who will limit their family size. These incentives are:

 Free schooling for two children per mother. Fees will be charged for the third child and the charges will be raised for every successive child.

 Education and employment opportunities will be increased for women.

 Couples who have limited their children to two will be given priority when they want to take loans.

 Couples who will limit their family size will be guaranteed old age pensions if the children die before them.

Bhutan also have put sustainable use of renewable natural resources in the first room.

Bhutan has some of the greatest animal life when it comes to a country of this size. The wildlife varies from almost tropical to extreme old creatures. Strict restrictions on hunting have helped to keep the wildlife which existed i nthe country. Also the Buddhist religion is a help.

About 20% of the total surface area is protected as wildlife parks

Another thing that is done now to keep the development sustainable is the formal education. At present only 20-40% of the population can read and write. So Bhutan pu the trust in the young people. If they learn how to write and read in school they might help their own parents to understand the importance of the sustainable use of naturla resources.

Primary school children learn to be aware and to love their environment and how to take care of it. Tree planting is part of a social forestry program and takes place every year.

There are at present only two non-governmental organisations in Bhutan. These are the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature and the National Women’s Association of Bhutan. There are also international organisations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Nature is invilved with the protection of rare animals. It organises nature clubs, summer camps and awareness sourses for children.

The National Women’s Association of Bhutan is a very powerful agency as the women have an important role in the family. This organisation has introduced new kinds of cooking stoves for family use and is at present involved in developing literacy skills for adults and children who drop out of school.


Even though it seems to be goig on very good in Bhutan there are some problems for the future. The major problems are the differences between the regions, the differences between the sexes and the cultural belief.

The differences between the regions in Bhutan are big. In the northern parts, in the Himalayas, aint there any good roads and the transportation to this are meets big problems. Up in the north it’s also a problem with the unemployment, even if it isn’t very big.

The modernisation has brought differences between the sexes. Even if the women have a very high possition in the Bhutanese society they seems to be behind the men when it comes to education. And as they are behind the men within the education they are also behind when it comes to high possitions within the politics and the administration.

The cultural belief is a problem as the Bhutanese wont accept a westernisation of the country.


Until recently, the small Kingdom of Bhutan, in the foot hills of the Himalayas, has remained isolated from the rest of the world. While other countries were under development, Bhutan stood still and its people continued to live...

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Inactive member [2000-10-22]   Development in Bhutan
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