With reference to the target of poverty alleviation set in the MDGs, Pakistan’s performance is disappointing when viewed in the perspective of National Poverty Line, but it is an outstanding performance when seen in the context of International Poverty Line.
Poverty may be economic or in the form of the non-fulfilment of basic human rights. But in both cases, it receives its toll from humanity. For this very reason, 1.29 billion people are living in the developing countries, with the daily income of less than 1.25 US dollars, are the victims of deprivation, despair and despondency. Besides this, 1.59 billion people living in 106 countries of the world, are deprived of basic human facilities. International Day of Poverty Eradication is observed each year on October 17, for the improvement of the socio-economic conditions of the people who are afflicted with economic and multi-dimensional poverty.
The importance of international efforts aimed at poverty alleviation can be imagined from the fact that eradication of extreme poverty and hunger was described as the first goal among the UN Millennium Development Goals. This target was to be achieved between 1990 and 2015. Leaders all over the world agreed that the people having the daily income of less than $1 should be regarded as those living below poverty line. For a few years, starting from 1990, the World Bank anchored absolute poverty line as $1 per day. This was revised in 1993and till 2005, absolute poverty was $1.08 a day for all countries on a purchasing power parity basis, after adjusting for inflation to the 1993 US dollar. In 2005, after extensive studies of cost of living across the world, the World Bank raised the measure for global poverty line to reflect the observed higher cost of living.
Now, the World Bank defines absolute poverty as living on US $1.25 (ppp) per day.
In view of the severe energy crisis, precarious law and order situation, soaring prices and uncertain employment opportunities existing in Pakistan, are there any chances of its improvement in the global ranking with reference to poverty?
If the daily income of one US dollar is regarded as the yardstick of measuring poverty line, the target of alleviating this type of poverty, as mentioned in the Millennium Development Goals, was achieved in 2008, because in 1990, the ratio of people having the daily income of less than one US dollar was 30.8 per cent, which was reduced to 14 per cent by the year 2008. But now, as mentioned earlier, the definition of international poverty line has been revised and according to the new definition, people with the daily income of less than $1.25 are included in the list of those living below poverty line. If we consider the question of poverty alleviation in line with the revised definition, in a note issued by the Development Research Group of the World Bank in January 2012, it was reported that despite the global financial crisis, developing countries achieved the MDG 1 in 2010. As compared to 1990, the ratio of such poor people in the population has been reduced to half. It is a major achievement with reference to global efforts aimed at poverty alleviation. But the progress of developing countries at the individual level, tells a different story. For instance, in Pakistan, the national poverty line is the daily intake of 2350 calories. When measured by the standard of national poverty line, Pakistan’s performance is disappointing with regard to poverty alleviation, but from the standard of international poverty line, its performance is excellent. According to the official statistics, in 1990-91, 26.1 per cent people of Pakistan were living below the national poverty line. In other words, they did not have the daily intake of 2350 calories. But in 2005-06, 22.3 per cent population of the country was living below the national poverty line. Under the Millennium Development Goals, the government aspires to bring down this number to 13 per cent by the year 2015. The question is that if in 15 years, we were able to reduce our poverty only by 3.8 per cent, how can we reduce it to 13 per cent in just 10 years time? But at the same time, if we keep in mind the international poverty line which is the daily income of $1.25, in 2005, Pakistan
achieved the target set in the Millennium Development Goals regarding poverty alleviation. In 1991, 65 per cent people of Pakistan were living on less than $1.25 per day. But in 2005, this number was reduced to 23 per cent. By the year 2008, it was further reduced to 21 per cent. During that year, the number of people in Pakistan living on less than $1.25 was 35 million, but in 1991, it was 72 million.
Availability of employment opportunities, increase in income and reduction of prices are some of the challenges faced by the poverty alleviation efforts all over the world. In this connection, Pakistan is also under tremendous pressure. But in spite of that, as a result of poverty alleviation efforts, situation in Pakistan is better than that of several developing countries. According to the statistics given in the World Bank’s report known as World Development Indicators, issued in 2012, Pakistan stands at 76 with reference to national poverty line, in the 106 countries of the world, whose statistics are available. Among the south Asian countries, Sri Lanka is the only country where the ratio of the people living below national poverty line is less than that of Pakistan, while the situation of the remaining south Asian countries is even worse than that of Pakistan. With reference to the international poverty line, among the 124 countries of the world, whose statistics are available, Pakistan stands at 48. The ranking of other South Asian countries is as follows: Bangladesh 25th, India 26th and Nepal 42nd. It means that as compared to Pakistan, other south Asian countries have a higher per centage of poor population.
But now, Pakistan faces such huge problems as precarious law and order situation, sky rocketing prices, severe energy crisis and uncertain employment opportunities. In the presence of such multiple factors, can Pakistan hope to improve its rating in the global ranking of countries with regard to poverty alleviation? This question is a bitter reality that confronts us now. The fact is that in view of the reduced economic activities in the country, the already meager resources have become even more limited; and even these extremely limited resources are increasingly difficult to be used in public welfare and development programmes on account of rampant corruption. As a natural consequence, basic human rights are not available to a large number of our people. For this very reason, almost half of the country’s population is deprived of basic human rights, as shown in the multi-dimensional poverty index, prepared on the basis of the ten indicators of living standard, health and education. According to the UNDP’s Human Development Report 2011, 49.4 per cent of Pakistan’s population is facing multi-dimensional poverty. According to the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative Index, prepared by the Oxford University’s Department of International Development, 58.5 per cent people of Balochistan, 58.5 per cent people of KPK, 56 per cent people of Sindh and 43.8 per cent people of Punjab are confronted by multi-dimensional poverty. Besides this, 19.1 per cent people of Balochistan, 14.2 per cent people of KPK, 10.2 per cent people of Punjab and 9.3 per cent people of Sindh are vulnerable with reference to multi-dimensional poverty. The ratio of Pakistan’s population which is further vulnerable to multi-dimensional poverty, is 11 per cent. Due to this reason, in the Human Development Index prepared by the UNDP, Pakistan stands at 145 among 187 countries of the world, with reference to human development. Pakistan’s ranking is fifth among the eight south Asian countries with regard to human development. It is included in the list of those countries which are characterised by low human development. People all over the world, who are deprived of economic and basic human rights, are desirous of getting a better treatment from their people friendly governments and capitalists, so that, instead of leading a miserable and woeful life, they too may be able to lead a calm, comfortable and peaceful life. And this is the real objective of observing the international day of poverty alleviation.