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Man reparing window in Bhutan

Besides national economic and social development, Bhutan's plans for the future pay particular attention to good governance, preserving cultural identity and an intact environment. The gross national product is not the only thing that counts, another major yardstick is the oft-cited gross national happiness of the Bhutanese.

Bhutan is looking to stand on its own economic feet by 2018 (the end the current five-year period), with an emphasis on inclusive and green socio-economic development. Poverty reduction is therefore still a focus of the eleventh Five-Year Plan. Above all in rural areas, a fifth of the population live below the national poverty line, a monthly per capita income under EUR 21. Due to the mountainous landscape, it is difficult to supply the population with water, electricity and public services. A growing rural exodus is causing new problems for urban and rural areas.

Energy boost for development

Bhutan selected Austria in the 1980s as a partner country for future development in a sector where it has extensive know-how: hydropower use. Austria was heavily involved in the construction of the main hydropower stations, Rangjung and Basochhu 1 and 2. The Dagachhu power plant is due to go on line in 2015. Austria provides technical advice for this. Thanks to the power stations - and above all the expansion of the power grid - almost all urban households in Bhutan have electricity. Eighty-seven per cent of residents in rural areas are supplied with electricity and 2,700 households in particularly remote areas have been given access with Austrian support.

Happiness is a place - tourism at the foot of the Himalayas

Tourism is a mainstay of Bhutan's economy. A growing number of Bhutanese are finding work in this sector. Since 2010, tourism professionals have been trained with Austrian support in a modern well-equipped tourism college. In the near future, the practical college training courses will be supplemented by an adjacent 4-star training hotel now under construction. Bhutan has set its sights on soft tourism, combining high quality with the minimum ecological footprint.

Strengthening democracy

Good governance is one of the four pillars of gross national happiness. Judicial reforms are important to strengthen the independence of the courts from the legislative and the executive. Special priority is therefore attached in Bhutan to training judges and judicial officers and to building courthouses. To enhance the population's new vision of themselves as citizens actively involved in shaping the future, Austria helps in establishing civil-society organisations. Bhutan is still a young democracy: A constitutional monarchy was introduced in the last Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas in 2008 and democratic parliamentary elections took place for the second time in 2013.

From Austria to the Roof of the World

The priorities of Austrian-Bhutanese cooperation lie in energy supply, tourism development and strengthening the rule of law. Development cooperation between the kingdom and Austria began in the early 1980s. Diplomatic relations were officially established in 1989 and an foreign office was opened in the capital Thimphu in 1994.

Further Information
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© Alice Gutlederer
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