Issues and Challenges

Poverty in Pakistan – Beneath the Surface

Poverty — a global misery, is affecting numerous countries in the so-called developing world. Yes, the world appears as if it is developing but it is not. Development means growth and growing together; for happiness, success, better life standard and most of all, full contentment and peace. Alarmingly, the world is not growing towards these goals. Had we been growing together, hundreds of people would not have died due to hunger and poverty or committed suicide because of the miseries of life. 
Pakistan is ranked 147th on the Human Development Index (HDI). According to a report by the Pakistan Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform, almost 39% of the population is living below the poverty line. Poverty’s definition goes beyond money and wealth; it covers health and medication, access to basic human needs, education and standard of living. 
To begin with, we need to understand what poverty is, and how do the stakeholders perceive it. There is a gap between definitions of poverty by the policy makers and that of the community. The policy makers define poverty in terms of earning capacity ($2 per day), whereas the community’s definition is more about social inclusion, e.g., access to safe drinking water, clean environment, primary education, health facilities and jobs.
In order to solve the issue of poverty, the policy makers should know what ‘the issue’ is. Thus, the lapses in knowledge are the biggest dilemma. Some of the alarming issues, which are a hurdle in eradicating poverty in Pakistan, are discussed below.

Regional and Provincial Disparities in Poverty
The level of poverty is not the same throughout Pakistan as there is great disparity across provinces, so the mild impact this 39% gives is not real. The highest percentage of poverty exists in FATA and Balochistan. According to the Multidimensional Poverty Report (MPI) of 2016, “Above 73% population in FATA and 71% in Balochistan lives in multidimensional poverty.” In addition, some districts of Balochistan, like Harnai and Qilla Abdullah face 90% poverty, as compared to Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, where less than 10% people live in multidimensional poverty. 
It is pertinent to mention that many governments have launched poverty reduction programs, but none could succeed in achieving its goal. There can be multiple reasons for their failure, but one of the most pervasive one is that the policy makers in the main cities have never experienced poverty and they do not take the trouble of engaging people suffering from poverty in the planning process; thus, they repeatedly fail to resolve this problem. To support the rural communities in their survival and sustainability their perspective on poverty needs to be understood and should be included in the planning process. Perhaps, because at the heart of actions taken to reduce poverty by the policy makers, there is only political interest involved.

Population Boom
Another major issue is the burgeoning population rate, which plays a critical role in weighing down a country’s socio-economic development. Pakistan is the sixth most populous country, whose population has grown by 40 million in the past decade, and it is still growing at the rate of 1.8% every year. Educating and generating awareness about the problems of having a bigger population is the only way out. We as a nation need to come out of the stereotype attached with these social issues. We need to spread awareness among the public that the country has limited resources, a bigger population means more mouths to feed, and efficient utilization of scarce resources by all is not possible. Thus, majority will be deprived of jobs, food, land and even water. 

Corruption
The second largest economy of South Asia – Pakistan – is unable to eradicate entrenched poverty from its roots, because of social inequality, lack of interest, self-centeredness of policy makers and corruption. It is impossible for a country to come out of the vicious cycle of poverty where millions of dollars  in the form of foreign aid are syphoned off — may they be for earthquake relief programs or for education projects like ‘Let Girls Learn’. A country where rural community has to walk great distances every day to access clean water, its policy makers are busy making offshore companies.

Solutions and Remedies 
Grinding poverty and lack of access to basic needs leads to illiteracy, child labor, depression, suicides, religious extremism and conflicts, which in turn mean a lower standard of living. Pakistan’s poverty is multidimensional which needs multidimensional solutions. 
•    In order to eradicate poverty, policy makers need to focus on ‘poverty of opportunity’, because poverty of opportunity leads to poverty of income. We need to implement the Chinese saying, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Aid and subsidies perform the role of steroids in the community, while we need a permanent treatment through Skill Development. 
•    Poverty reduction programs do not succeed for long, reason being ‘top to bottom’ hierarchy. So many resources are spent on organizational structures and the overheads that by the time they reach the beneficiaries, the amount is negligible. No matter how transparent the system is, pilferage makes way and the benefits may never accrue to those who deserve. Such funds should have minimum hierarchy and heavy accountability to minimize the chances of corruption. 
•    There is a need to eradicate corruption first, especially, from the programs of rural development, so that the funds reach the deserving ones on time. The government needs to improve rural infrastructure, launch population control programs and work on the literacy rate without any gender bias so that everyone is well equipped with both social knowledge and skills and start developing. HH


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