There are more beggars on the streets of Pakistan today, the street-muggers are no more forgiving and extremism is on the rampage – as if “rude inelegance of poverty reigns here alone”. Notwithstanding the many claims of giving pro-poor annual budgets and of making tangible moves towards alleviating poverty, the ground realities refuse to budge. Among us we have more poor today than before, says a World Development Indicators (WDI) 2015 report. In Pakistan, more than 50 percent of population lives below the poverty line, it says, and of them 12.7 percent trapped in extreme poverty. For too long have we deceived ourselves by placing ourselves under one dollar a day poverty line, which significantly, and fallaciously, brought down the poverty line. According to official figures, poverty in Pakistan declined from 34.4 percent in 2000-01 to 22.3 percent in 2005-06 – a fictitious figure disputed by a senior planner who left in a huff – but this decline did not reflect in public health, education and related social sectors. The internationally recognised poverty line is two dollars a day (Rs 205 per day), which more than half of the people of Pakistan do not make. Obviously, grinding poverty has its after-effects: 31.6 percent of children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition and are underweight, mortality rate in under five is 86 per 1000 and mortality is 170 per 100,000 births. Education for all remains a pipedream – and a constitutional violence – as 29 percent for ages 15-24 are not in schools. The report says the unemployment ratio is 5 percent, while under-employment is enormous. During the 2009-13 ‘democratic era’ the GDP growth in Pakistan was 3.1 percent, as compared to 5.1 percent during 2000-09.
As to how this narrative of deepening poverty in Pakistan will play out in the lives of its 185 million people the World Development Indicators 2015 report, as expected, offers no comment. But to us it is of critical relevance, as our country’s development indicators fall significantly below those of countries with comparable levels of per capita income, and its after-effects tend to accentuate social tensions and rise in lawlessness. Nowhere are we meeting the MDGs goals. Wealth distribution in Pakistan is grossly uneven with top 10 percent of people earning 27.6 percent and bottom 10 percent earning only 4.1 percent on income. The growing income polarisation tends to create anarchy; erodes people’s allegiance to state and lends space for extremism to flourish. As against pauper economic and industrial inheritance – at the time of independence Pakistan inherited only one university, one textile mill and one jute mill – but by mid-sixties Pakistan was on the verge of becoming an Asian tiger. Then there was a long spell of failed planning and high score of missed targets. The situation has not changed in any significant manner, though to some extent the blame can be shifted on the Afghan war and its fallout for Pakistan. But of all the negative factors most telling in impact are energy shortages resulting in acute paralysis of country’s industrial sector and therefore extensive unemployment, irredeemable law and order situation and bureaucratic corruption. Of course, Benazir Income Support Programme, Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund and subsidies for agricultural outputs have helped lift people out of poverty, but only marginally. Poor planning by the concerned departments and self-aggrandising political ‘visions’ remain the problem. Will the plan to bring all existing social protection programmes under one umbrella for a unified and transparent targeting system and effective monitoring climb down from the drawing board? We will wait and watch. But what be instantly done to blunt the sharp edge of blade of inflation is application of some kind of price control mechanism on the advent of Ramazan. Likewise, the government must waste no more time in ensuring free education for all up to matriculation and a much wider network of free healthcare points across the country.
The Text appeared as Editorial of Business Recorder today.