Launch of the UNDP Human Development Report 2014

22 Aug 2014

Statement by Christina Carlson
UNDP Resident Representative
Good afternoon.  It’s a great pleasure to welcome you to the official launch of 2014 Human Development in Bhutan. I would like to thank Honourable Lyonpo for gracing this event, despite his very tight schedule.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This year’s Human Development Report, focusing on Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience, is very timely. As stated by the UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark, “increased volatility has become the new normal” with disasters and crises threatening to set back development gains.

We have all heard about the potentially devastating effects of climate change.  And extreme weather events—such as last November’s typhoon in the Philippines, and the floods in Eastern Europe in May—seem to be happening with greater severity and more frequency.   These events can lead to loss of life and the destruction of livelihoods and infrastructure, reversing development gains in just hours and devastating communities.

But the development impacts of crises—and the number of lives lost—are not the same in all countries.  The 2014 Human Development Report has found that the reason for this is that there are policies and steps which can be taken to reduce vulnerability, and to help build the resilience of communities to withstand different types of shocks.

In looking at the important question of why certain people do better than others in overcoming the effects of these crises, the 2014 Human Development Report makes an important contribution to how decision-makers prepare for these events.

Much of the previous research on this topic has focused on peoples’ exposure to particular risks—such as earthquakes—and is usually sector-specific. The 2014 Human Development Report takes a more holistic human vulnerability approach, which considers two linked elements:

•    The first is Structural or systemic vulnerability, where some people or groups, because of their history or of their unequal treatment by the rest of society, are more vulnerable to economic shocks, disease, natural disasters, climate change and environmental hazards. Among others, vulnerable groups can include people in rural or remote areas, women, people with disabilities, minorities, children, the elderly or youth.

•     The second is Life cycle vulnerability, which recognizes that many of people’s vulnerabilities and strengths are the result of their life histories, with past experiences influencing their present exposure to risks.  The report identifies three key periods of life that are particularly important for shaping a person’s future outcomes:  the first 1,000 days; the transition from school to work;  and the transition from work to retirement.  

This last element is particularly important and innovative.  The report finds that children, adolescents/young adults, and the elderly are particularly at risk or vulnerable to the effects of disasters and other crises.  But policy makers can reduce these risks and their potential impact through targeted investments in life capabilities at key stages in peoples’ lives—such as early childhood nutrition and education; job training and proactive labour market policies for new job seekers; and social and economic support and engagement opportunities for aging populations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The concept of life cycle vulnerability is particularly relevant for Bhutan.  The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are extremely important for brain, physical and emotional development. While Bhutan has made commendable progress by reducing the number of its underweight children by almost half from 2008 to 2012, more than one third of Bhutanese children still suffer from stunting. In addition to growth issues, the immune system of stunted children is weaker and more vulnerable to diseases. Studies have shown that the effects of this early deprivation last a lifetime:  a stunted child will not learn, or earn, as much as he or she could have if properly nourished in early life.

In Bhutan, the Government and the UN are together working to address the challenges of the first 1,000 days.  UNICEF works together with the Ministry of Health on infant and child feeding practices, such as promoting breastfeeding. UNFPA focuses on improving nutrition from the start of woman’s pregnancy until the child is 2 years old. FAO works on linking agriculture and nutrition by increasing food productivity and production, and broadening nutritional composition of the food basket in Bhutan, introducing new varieties, and improving yields. All of these efforts have the same aim: having healthier mothers and children.  

The second major life cycle challenge has been in the news a lot this past week:  the transition from school to work.  Bhutan is not alone in facing the challenge of youth employment. Globally, the number of young people looking for work is growing steadily. Young people often lack education, experience, networks and resources to create their own employment.

Also in Bhutan, the latest figures show that youth unemployment is considerably higher than the overall unemployment rate of 2.1 percent: among male youth, unemployment stands at 9.5 percent, and among female youth, at 11.6 percent. These rates are even higher in the urban areas where one out of five of male youth, and almost one out of three female youth (29.5 percent) are unemployed.

The Human Development Report urges policy makers to recommit to the objective of full employment, in order to strengthen resilience and sustain progress. Long-term unemployment is a serious threat to physical and mental health. And unemployment tends to be associated with an increase in crime, suicide, violence, substance abuse and other social problems. Full employment, on the other hand, expands the tax base to provide for universal social services. Therefore, the social benefits of a job far exceed the private benefit for the individuals concerned.

UNDP supports the Royal Government of Bhutan in addressing the challenge of youth unemployment. As the Honorable Lyonpo is aware, UNDP is currently working on the youth perception survey report. The findings of this report will feed into the formulation of programme proposal to address specific causes of unemployment among the youth. Measures to tackle youth unemployment include supporting youth through skills development and vocational training programmes as well as developing the private sector and promoting innovation.

As statistics for Bhutan show, women and men face different challenges in the job market. One of the measures in the Human Development Report is the Gender Inequality Index where Bhutan is ranked at 102 out of 149 countries. This index reflects gender-based inequalities in reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity.

Looking into why Bhutan has a relatively low position globally, the adolescent birth rate in Bhutan is slightly higher than the average of South Asia, and almost ten times higher than that of the Maldives. When a teenage girl becomes pregnant, she is often forced to drop out of school, has difficulties finding a job, and as a result her vulnerabilities to poverty, exclusion and dependency multiply. The high adolescent birth rate might be one of the reasons why the labour force participation rate among women in Bhutan is considerable lower (66.4%) than for men (76.9%). To prevent teenage pregnancies and early marriages from pushing young girls to vulnerable life situations, UNFPA is working on institutionalizing sexuality education in Bhutan.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The analysis of the 2014 Human Development Report shows that in addition to addressing life cycle and structural vulnerabilities, policy makers will also need to elevate and maintain a strong focus on resilience to crises and disasters.

Even if effective policies are in place, natural disasters can have highly destructive consequences. Countries and communities that are underprepared, unaware of risks and have minimal preventive capacity are disproportionately affected suffer the impact of disasters. The Human Development Report 2014 stresses that resilience can be built through investing in preparedness and recovery efforts.

Bhutan is prone to a number of natural hazards such as earthquakes, floods, landslides, forest fires, outbreaks of pests and diseases, droughts and windstorms. The changing climate is likely to further exacerbate Bhutan’s vulnerability. UNDP is engaged in building capacities for assessing natural disaster risks and developing plans and programmes to improve preparedness to disasters—including at the community level. The Disaster Management Act, adopted by the Parliament in 2013, was drafted with financial and technical support from UNDP.

The first pillar of GNH is “sustainable and equitable socio-economic development”. The 2014 Human Development Report reminds us that unless and until structural and life cycle vulnerabilities are systematically addressed through policies and social norms, long-term development progress will be neither equitable nor sustainable.

The UN system in Bhutan is committed to working together with the Royal Government of Bhutan, civil society and other development partners to ensure that no-one – including the vulnerable groups – will be left behind.  

Thank you and Tashi delek!