By: Saqib Ali
Pakistan is a country that has been blessed with abounding natural resources – both renewable and nonrenewable – that are sufficient for fulfilling all the needs of the people of the country. It has also vast agricultural productivity, huge livestock population, mighty rivers, dense forests and compatible seasons to boost up the production of corps. It is inevitable to increase the production of crops in order to feed the 208 million people who are increasingly becoming the victims of starvation, hunger and malnutrition that is causing stunted growth of our children. Further, low incomes and long working hours can also be attributed to this vicious cycle of poverty. For instance, more than 40 percent people are living below the poverty line in Pakistan.
Since its inception, Pakistan has received millions of dollars from other countries and international financial institutions for the eradication of poverty. A number of economic policies were also formulated by the government in this regard. Nonetheless, it has not been successful in eliminating the voice of poverty from the society. This is particularly not reasonable when a comparison of Pakistan is made with India and China. Owing to their robust policies and huge inflow of foreign investments, both these countries have experienced a sharp fall in their poverty levels. Pakistan’s progress in this area has been very poor. In fact, unemployment is a major cause behind the prevalent abject poverty in our country. According to the World Bank estimates, unemployment rate reached at the peak of 5.9% in 2016 and 2017. How can our state prosper when there is rampant unemployment and poverty? How can we safeguard our people against deadly diseases, when health services are inadequate and substandard treatment is provided to the patients at government hospitals? These are some serious questions that need to be addressed by the PTI government.
Although many efforts have been put in by successive governments in the realm of poverty eradication, e.g. Benazir Income Support Programme and other such initiatives, yet qualitative changes in the lives of the poor could not be realized. And, there are numerous reasons behind this fiasco, including highly centralized economic system, widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, unbridled wastage of food, high inflation and exuberant food prices, joblessness and demand and supply dilemma. In this regard, major stakeholders should be taken into confidence for the formulation of policies that would be lucrative enough to attract investments from local as well foreign businessmen and investors. This, in turn, would generate a large number of jobs for our unemployed youth. Furthermore, employment exchange campaigns should be launched in collaboration with China, especially under the CPEC. This would be another golden opportunity for our talented youth that they would exploit to secure jobs, with an added benefit of building a cultural relationship between the two nations. There is no denying the fact that employment opportunities are interlinked with reduction in poverty, and Pakistan needs to tackle this issue on urgent basis.
Concurrently, some other steps and initiatives like incorporating simplicity, inculcating moral and ethical values in our social fabric, maintaining equality and justice, rooting out corruption, distributing resources efficiently and discouraging wastage and contamination of food, as well as laying great emphasis on water conservation are required at the earliest to tackle this persisting dilemma. In fact, making these efforts is inevitable if we want to take our nation to the height of glory and prosperity.
Read More: POVERTY AND LOCAL GOVERNANCE
In the same context, agricultural capacity should be boosted, and hoarding, extra-profiteering and black-marketing must be strictly handled by Price Magistrates and other relevant authorities. The three components namely, availability, sustainability and credibility, are basic pillars of our economic system. It is the prime responsibility of all the provincial governments to provide subsidies on items consumed by the poor households so that they may easily make both ends meet. Moreover, social ills such as begging, theft, dacoities and snatching of valuables ought to be dealt with iron hand. The role of philanthropists, social scientists and psychiatrists in designing the future course for our new generation is pressingly needed. Psychological factors such as depression, anxiety and other mental disorders that could even lead a person to committing a suicide are soaring, and getting rid of them is the need of the hour so as to channel the talents and skills of our youth in the right direction.
It is indubitably true that realizing the dream of a hunger-free and moderate society on real grounds demands strenuous efforts for making our economic system stable. Just remember that after the deadly nuclear attacks on Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima virtually obliterated them, the government made all-out efforts to remake these cities; and within a short span of time, they achieved the zenith of prosperity and development. Consequently, their rankings on the Human Development Index (HDI) improved, and poverty decreased by virtue of social integration. Further, following the attacks, the national government provided specialized funding to assist in the rebuilding Hiroshima, with the establishment of the Peace Memorial City Hiroshima Fund. In the same manner, proper thought be utilized for building rural areas of Pakistan. The China factor in the form of CPEC is extremely indispensable for our nation and proper utilization of the recent Saudi aid could be a huge sigh of relief for our debt-ridden economy.
Poverty as per Pakistan Economic Survey 2017-18
Over the last decade, Pakistan’s poverty headcount has witnessed a persistent decline both at national and regional levels. Percentage of people living below poverty line has declined from 50.4% in 2005-06 to 24.3% in 2015-16. Poverty in both rural and urban areas has also been on the declining trend with poverty headcount of 12.5% in Urban and 30.7% in rural areas in 2015-16. The decline in poverty is more pronounced in urban areas than rural areas.
Targeted poverty reduction programmes like BISP, relative political stability, peace and tranquillity, strong recovery from low GDP growth rate of 1.7% in 2008-09 to 4.5% in 2015-16, continued higher inflows of remittances especially from the Middle East which are destined to relatively poor families and, above all, a more inclusive characteristics of economic growth; are some of the important causes that can be attributed to a significant decline in the poverty headcount since 2005-06.
Declining trends are shared at national as well as urban and rural areas. While comparing with 2011-12, largest percentage decline in poverty headcount was observed in year 2013-14 when national poverty headcount declined by 6.8 percentage points with 6.2 percentage points decline in urban and 7.5 percentage points in rural areas. Poverty headcount has declined by 5.7 percentage points in urban areas and 4.9 percentage points in rural areas between 2014 and 2016, thereby leading to an overall decline of 5.2 percentage points decline in incidence of national poverty headcount. The decline in poverty incidence is phenomenal in Pakistan since 2007-08 and normal intersurvey decline is around 7 percentage points with only exception of 2010-11. The intersurvey decline in poverty headcount was insignificant in 2011-12 compared to 2010-11 survey. There can be two possible undertones for this low performance. First, inter-survey period may not be a period sufficient to observe meaningful decline in poverty both at national and regional levels. Two, catastrophic floods of 2010-11 hit a significant blow to rural populace whose income and livelihoods were severely affected by these floods.
Overall, despite floods of 2010 and chronic energy shortages, aggravated security situation and government’s limited capacity to mobilize and channelize its own resources exclusively for social welfare and poverty eradication programmes, the declining trend in poverty headcount in Pakistan is both promising and encouraging. Strong resurgence of economic growth, more provincial autonomy to shape and spearhead their own social welfare and poverty eradication programmes, as well as targeted social safety nets programme of BISP have all been the main drivers of poverty decline in the past.