Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) had focus on halving poverty and improving lives of the world’s poorest by 2015. This very objective did materialize in case of some emerging economies particularly of Asia where incidentally over the past two and half decade economic growth rate of the continent as a whole has been higher than what was achieved by other economies on the globe. This high growth rate enabled fast growing Asian economies to reduce absolute poverty (earning $1.25 per day) by 50 percent. However in some of the South Asian countries including Pakistan poverty status remains stagnant.
In case of Pakistan among several rhetoric versions given for difficulties encountered for achieving MDGs relating to poverty reduction, it is total disregard of participatory role of economically disadvantaged segments of population in policy making, hampering desired progress rate in this direction. There is need to bring change in mindset of professionals and technical experts. They instead of relying totally on their knowledge and expertise must try to understand problems and priorities of poor and actions to be taken to resolve their varying issues.
This as a matter of fact and will be possible if strategy developed in this regard is based on information collected from civil society as a whole in general and urban and rural local communities in particular. In this regard foremost requirement is political support for poverty reduction measures taken at governmental and non government level, which in turn is possible only in open political environment. In context of Pakistan where democratic set up prevails, but stronghold of feudal culture in Assemblies keeps voice of poor at a bay. It is despite the fact that these innocent poor, both urban and rural are lured to vote for these legislatures with feudal background going to assemblies on the basis of their promises for welfare programs to be under taken in their constituencies. Impoverished segments of each society know that their very survival depends on resources controlled by powerful elite of the country with very few options available to them as such remain silent witness to all exploitation done to them.
Poverty reduction strategies have been successful where governments and their policy makers gave priority to incorporating information gathered from civil society as a whole. In this regard it is essential that before embarking on policy making surveys should be conducted by local governments, NGOs and academic institutions and also by deploying consultancy firms through random sampling of poor communities with full representation of both men and women from various ethnic groups. Such surveys/research studies in conformity with IMF Poverty Reduction program must cover multidimensional aspects of poverty and strategies needed and what suggested by communities for arresting growing poverty and particularly in context of budgetary allocations needed for the program.
Apart from these surveys focusing on basic dimensions of the issue like real financial needs of different market segments within the population and how best to reach each of them advance research need to be conducted for covering socio-economic impact of macroeconomic adjustments like tax reforms, civil service reforms, increase or decrease in public sector spending, elimination of subsidies (as is being vehemently resisted in case of petrol and electricity prices) and its indirect repercussions on already worsening fiscal deficit position leading to cut in budget allocations for various poverty reduction programs.
Through participatory policy making where civic groups and poor have been involved in policy designing, implementation and monitoring at all levels, it will ensure transparency, good governance and accountability. It will also ensure devolution of power to grass root level creating sense of ownership even amongst poorest of the poor.
In Pakistan quite often attempts were made at different forums to seek views of disadvantaged groups of population for devising their economic betterment plans. Almost in all the cases line of action suggested was based on income analysis through indicators of income, education and health status of poor, which failed to capture various dimensions of poverty now being emphasized by donor agencies like World Bank and Asian Development Bank etc. According to parameters set by them such research studies/surveys must have focus on well being and quality of life of poor for which impeding factors like vulnerability (due to lack of assets), insecurity, social isolation, lack of access to information and distrust of government functionaries of all tiers to whom they come in contact with in routine matters.
World Bank Report titled ‘Economic Outlook’ of late nineties reveals that low income African countries particularly Uganda’s Bureau of Statistics while conducting annual household survey, apart from covering economic indicators emphasis was laid on security (war insurgency, cattle rustling and domestic violence), corruption, lack of access to clean water and lack of information to government policies due to lack/absence of communication infrastructure. Accordingly this participatory poverty assessment project of Uganda identified the goals to be set forth for their poverty reduction strategy paper, which gave priority to improving governance, security and ultimately socio-economic well being. Resultantly Uganda has recorded a substantial reduction in impoverished population. Since World Bank and IMF have linked debt relief to low income developing countries to success of their poverty eradication program Uganda was able to have sizable resources derived from debt relief obtained from IMF/World Bank either through write off or rescheduling of their debt liabilities, which were directed towards improvement of water supply and health care system.
Participatory poverty assessment survey study if conducted on these lines by involving both rural and urban poor our policy makers will be able to have a realistic poverty reduction strategy.
Another dimension of poverty, which needs to be looked into while conducting such research study, is to include impact of aging population on poverty. Due to improved health care facilities even in developing countries life span has improved considerably. As such increasing number of senior dependant members in the family and need of additional health care for them adds to the misery of poor families. One of the reasons that China has already surpassed the poverty reduction target is their concern at this count. In order to improve welfare of their poor population, China as a part of their social safety net initiatives made substantial allocation of resources for healthcare and pension fund for retired poor senior citizens of the country in order to improve economic welfare of the poor families.
Rural poor are experiencing extreme poverty, they apart from economic constraints are faced with frequency of natural calamities like heavy floods and severe drought conditions and also cattle rustling and illegal diversion of their irrigation water by influential big farmers (wadaras) to their own farms. As such yield of their crops is badly affected and theft losses of their cattle being secondary source of their income adversely impacts their assets ownership. Similarly incidents of land grabbing are common in ‘katchi abadis’ of urban areas, which are totally dwellings of urban poor.
In this regard there is need to asses and examine security condition both in urban and rural areas and put in place political accountability system in the country, which will automatically be facilitated through conduct of participatory poverty assessment studies involving not only poor, but also entire civil society through possible face to face interaction between diverse groups like NGOs, local government, community groups and provincial and federal governments.
On the other hand findings of such research studies will make possible a realistic approach towards allocation of budgets for education, health care and various social safety nets both in cash and kind to be provided to economically disadvantaged segments of population. Further on the basis of findings of such surveys micro financing institutions and banks will be able to have a reliable data regarding potential outreach areas and accordingly they will be able to develop both credit and saving products as well as credit disbursement and monitoring strategies according to socio-economic environment of community to be tapped.
Most importantly through participatory assessment studies it will become easy to bifurcate the extreme poverty cases from marginal poor, which in turn would help to diagnose problem in each category and accordingly design policy for sustainable solutions matching environment in each category. Such studies conducted in congenial environment involving total trust of each player involved will not only facilitate eradication of poverty, but also eliminate sense of insecurity from all segments of society – essential for sustained economic growth of a country.