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Dim social sector of Balochistan a ‘hostage to fortune’

Balochistan government must continue to prioritize the development of social sector in the annual budgets. It is worth mentioning that development of the social sector has been the special focus of the Balochistan budget for the last three years and for this regard the development spending for education and health sectors had been significantly increased. For the next fiscal year starting from July 2018, the provincial government has set aside 16.5 percent of the total development budget for education, showing its priority for development of education sector in the province. It has allocated the second highest amount of Rs12.452 billion for the education sector.

Official statistics show a dismal state of education in the province, which constitutes 44 percent of the country’s total land mass. There are 12,600 primary, middle and high schools for more than 22,000 settlements in the province. The province will have yet to establish 10,000 schools on war-footings to ensure provision of education to children across the province. It has 57,000 government teachers, while it needs 60,000 teachers more. The province has only 1.3 million school-going children out of total 3.6 million children.

Social sector actually suffered from underfunding for years. Balochistan will take years to come at par with developed regions of the country. The policy makers in Quetta should focus on the development of social sector and make significant investments in education and health to produce the required human and social capital for the economic development of the province. It has been seen that physical targets do not match with fiscal targets. The government should also pay heed to the institutional development in the province.

Investments in education and health sectors mean formation of human capital that can tap the province’s natural endowment. The underdeveloped education and health sectors contributed largely to the prevailing backwardness in the province. The social indicators are appalling in the province with illiteracy nearly at 60 percent, a small scattered population in large area, low primary school enrolment ratio and insufficient facilities for healthcare. No doubt, a healthy and educated population is real capital or human capital that can ensure development of vast natural resources in the province.

Poor education reduces the productivity of investments and weakens governance. Performance improvement in the educational arena can yield great potential returns in terms of development in the province. With low participation in general education and low completion rates at primary and secondary levels, the unemployment and underemployment rates in the province are higher than the national rates. Job vacancies are often unfilled due to lack of trained personnel.

An effective and sustained educational reform hinges on a combination of policy and institutional changes. Equally important is to invest the right amounts for the appropriate types of education. The illiteracy is higher in Balochistan, and hence the people lack the initiative and entrepreneurial ability. The province has no skilled and trained labor to utilize its natural resources. Resultantly, its resource potential remained untapped and the province has been caught up in underdevelopment trap. Education actually distinguishes the poor from the non-poor. For example, the proportion of literate household heads in poor households is almost half that of non-poor households. Poor households on average have 75 percent more children than the non-poor households. Most of these children are not receiving any education, and thus the cycle of poverty is perpetuated. There is a strong correlation between household income and school enrollment.

The province has a poor record in educating girls. Only about one-third of girls, who should be in primary school, are enrolled in the province. Balochistan’s gross primary school enrollment rates show a significant disparity between male and female enrollment. Overall education levels cannot be improved without making a significant advance in the education of girls in the province. The social divide in enrollment along gender lines should be eliminated in the province.

The health indicators in Balochistan like infant and mother mortality are poorer than any other province. Major causes of water-related diseases include lack of water supply and sanitation facilities, absence of proper sewerage disposal, waste mismanagement and contaminated water. These diseases can be prevented by facilitating the population with proper sewerage and sanitation disposal systems. A healthy population can work better for the economic progress of the province fully utilizing its capabilities and skills. For obtaining this health capital in the province, there is a high need to resolve basic and pressing issues related to the health sector. In rural areas, the health status is relatively poor. Lack or absence of female health staff including female doctors in rural areas worsens the situation. According to an estimate, there is only one doctor available for 7,300 persons in average.

What we need to do?

The development in health and education sectors leads to human resource development. The concept of good governance and a strong civil society remains vague without a population with a basic level of education and health standards. In the next budget, the provincial government must focus on improvement and formation of human capital to tap internal and external markets, and capitalize on market-driven economic growth. Governance reforms in the province need to be implemented and the institutions in the social sector need to be strengthened to improve the effectiveness of public and private social service delivery. The key areas need to focused for human development in Balochistan include a rational and long-term planning, on-job training programs, technical education according to the needs of 21st century, secondary level education for development of critical skills, allocation of significant resources, setting up of technology institutes in various districts, the recruitment of qualified teachers, instructors and trainers, access to the high-tech computing services, information technology, scientific management related education and value adding knowledge. Human development provides a wide range of choices and opportunities to the people for employment, nutrition, education and health care.

The government’s efforts in developing the social sector will only be fruitful if the funds are properly, rationally and honestly utilized through a well-developed institutional network. The lack of institutional framework has been the main cause of underutilization of annual development funds in the province.

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