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Balochistan’s growth in dire need of attention

The upcoming government-led by Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) who has taken absolute majority after July 25 elections-2018 is committed to invest in human resources. Human development remains the key in tackling the huge poverty challenge in the country. A healthy, skilled and educated population can work better for the economic progress of the country fully utilizing its capabilities and skills. For obtaining this human capital, there is a high need to resolve basic and pressing issues related to the education and health sectors.

Balochistan is the country’s poorest province, with standards of living lagging substantially behind the rest of the country. There is a dire need to focus on improvement and development of human resources for Balochistan to tap internal and external markets, and capitalize on market-driven economic growth. Socio-economic indicators in the province amply reveal that it is far and far behind from the other provinces and it needs more resources to come at par with other developed regions of Pakistan. What has actually limited the scope for financing the social sector development in Balochistan — the challenging social sector indicators, constraints in social service provision, and low investments in the social sector.

A report of Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) calls Balochistan as the poorest of all provinces with 52 percent population living below poverty line. The study revealed that 20 districts in the whole country had an acute poverty incidence, out of which 16 districts are located in the province. Only 20 percent of the people in the province have access to safe drinking water compared to 86 percent in the rest of Pakistan. Village electrification is only 25 percent compared to 75 percent in the rest of the country.

Infant mortality rate per 1,000 people is 108 in the province as against 100 in other parts of the country. The waterborne diseases like typhoid are also common due to lack of access of majority of population to the clean drinking water. According to one estimate, tuberculosis incidence is 177 per 100,000 population. The annual parasite incidence of 6.56 for malaria in Balochistan is almost 30 times the parasite incidence for the whole country. Half of school age children attend elementary school, and one third of children 12-23 months are immunized. The situation of basic amenities and access to education is also far below the ratio of other provinces. Nearly one half of the local population relies on unprotected wells, ponds, canals, or streams for their drinking water needs. Drinking water is often polluted and distributed without treatment.

The province lacks the genuine entrepreneurs and hence the private banks generally avoid giving loans for setting up small industries. Some private banks even banned loaning to the entrepreneurs in the province. Loaning side is not secure in Balochistan. Recovery of loans is the problematic area for the private banks due to the social, political and other barriers in the province.


Effective banking role

Allied Bank Limited (ABL), with its three dozen branches is operating in every district of Balochistan.

The banking sector can play a vital role in accelerating economic growth, facilitating finances to the down trodden sections for their socio-economic uplift and eradicating poverty from Balochistan. The province needs an effective banking system channelizing the resources to the neglected economic sectors. Banks can help exploit the potential opportunities of industrial development in fisheries, agriculture, handicrafts and other sectors of local economy.

Micro credit banking has also a big scope in Balochistan. The lack of adequate human and institutional capacity, shortage of local expertise and weak coordination among various stakeholders are the main hurdles in expanding micro-finance in Balochistan. The government must encourage the micro finance practitioners and help them develop a formal and sustainable finance system for expanding micro finance supply across the province. An informal credit supply is not the answer to ameliorate poverty, as the poor frequently turn to the informal credit suppliers that put crippling terms and conditions for micro-credit. Efforts should be made to maximize to outreach of the clients for promotion of private banks willing to invest in the micro credit.

A microfinance strategy should be devised to ensure the access of poor and low-income households to institutional financial services. For example, micro-credit facility to skilled women can play an important role in women’s economic empowerment, especially in rural Balochistan, where it is generally practiced at local family level. The handicraft work is common in the rural areas, where females having learnt the handicraft skills are actively engaged in sewing them to raise a livelihood for their families.

According to a UN literacy survey report, females in rural areas with lowest literacy rate, were more inclined to embroidery. They, belonging to the lower class of society, live under poverty, and for them making money on embroidery skills is a real bonus in life. Females from all age are engaged in doing embroidery skills, however, majority of them belong to young age. The learning of embroidery is formal for majority of them, as they don’t undergo any specific training for that; nonetheless, it needs special skills to do it properly.

The government should extend micro-credits to small farmers for horticulture development in the province. The lack of finance does not enable the cash-starved small farmers to harvest and market their fruit crop and they have to sell their orchards to pre-harvest contractors, who exploit them taking advantage of their weak financial position. The small farmers’ access to loan facility should be ensured. The poor fruit farmers have no option but the pre-harvest sale of their orchards to contractors, as they have no cold-storage facilities to save their produce. Moreover, they are unable to bear the high costs of entire marketing operation for their fruit crops. Only a few farmers with sound financial position have direct contacts with the commission agents to market their produce. What is direly needed is to enable the farmers to sell their produce directly eliminating the role of middlemen in the marketing channel.

For the incoming government, the aggravating poverty in the province should be the major challenge. It must take steps for supporting the poor, reducing their vulnerability and recovering from disasters. The government should also create conditions for the development of insurance markets, encourage the use of other risk-spreading financial instruments and design economic and regulatory incentives for risk reduction behavior. Steps need to be taken to stimulate coordinated actions and to mobilize regional resources for investments in risk mitigation.

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