July 07 - 13, 2008

The annual report of Mahbub-ul-Haq Human Development Centre titled "Human Development in South Asia 2007-A ten year review" was launched in Islamabad on Friday last by Khadija Haq, wife of Late Dr. Mehbub-ul-Haq, herself an eminent economist and president of the centre, amid a galaxy of economist researchers and economic writers representing South Asia including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

The launching ceremony was chaired by Sahibzada Yaqub Khan former foreign Minister. Dr. Hafeeq Pasha former Chairman Planning Commission of Pakistan, Dr. Ishrat Hussain, Former Governor State Bank of Pakistan, Usman Aminudin former federal Minister and Khadija Haq spoke on the accession beside Shahibzada Yaqub Khan. The launching ceremony was followed by a seminar spread over 2 days (Friday afternoon onward Saturday) on ten years of South Asia Human Development reports (1997-2007 "An analysis of impact on public policy and people"). The session on Friday afternoon was chaired by Sartaj Aziz formerly finance and foreign minister of Pakistan. The two sessions on Saturday were chaired by Mr. Saeed Qureshi and Mr. Syeduzzan respectively.

The report launched on Friday is tenth in a series of reports prepared by the Mehbub-ul-Haq Human Development centre. These reports are acknowledged as high profile research documents in the relevant circles in the South Asian Region. This year report acknowledges huge deprivations despite an overall reduction in poverty rates in all South Asian countries during last decade.

Highlighting huge deprivations prevailing in the region, the report offers concrete reasons to be optimistic about future of the region. It argues that governments in South Asia have become much more aware of significance of the human development paradigm and need to adopt people-centered development policies.

The reports states that despite unprecedented economic growth in South Asia leading to a decline in poverty and a higher human development level, the total number of people in poverty has not gone down, and health and education indicators are still considered areas of serious concerns. Speaking as chief guest on the occasion, former foreign minister-Sahibzada Yaqub Khan said that fresh flow of spirit and courage is vital to face fast-emerging challenges to come up with increased growth rate and enhanced improvement in life standard of people. He said the report identifies some signs of hope for the region such as unprecedented economic growth and historic transformation in the political landscape of most South Asian countries.

Lauding services of late Dr. Mahbub-ul-Haq, he said the flare of his torch is brighter than ever as work done by him acts as a guiding principle for those working hard to achieve targets of poverty reduction and human development. Former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan Dr. Ishrat Hussain said that many in the past believed that only physical infrastructure is major driving force for economic growth but later ground realities proved this hypothesis untrue.

He said that development of physical infrastructure without improvement in capacity building cannot deliver anything substantial and many countries had faced such a situation in the past. Dr. Ishrat Hussain said that many countries have adopted some new policies which enabled them to generate non-agriculture income that would certainly help reduce poverty in rural areas.

Dr. Hafiz Pasha, former deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, said that a global human development movement is going on to meet fast increasing requirements and no country can afford to lag behind in this spectrum. He said that some 31 regional and 500 national human development reports have been published in 143 countries during last decade showing growing importance of this sector. "One thing is very clear that we cannot focus only on economic growth because without improving life standard of common people real targets of development cannot be achieved," he said.

Mahbub-ul-Haq Human Development Centre Chairperson Khadija Haq said that key features which need special attention with regard to human development include new direction for economic growth, renewed attention to poverty reduction, greater emphasis on human development, real commitment to gender equality, devolution of power and strengthened role of civil society.

She said in the area of education, despite improvements in literacy and enrolment rates, most indicators remain dismal- worse than any other region in the world, including Sub-Saharan Africa.

Sadia Malik said that the report shows that child mortality has reduced from 120 to 76 per 1,000 live births while maternal mortality has increased from 430 to 510 per 100,000 women. She said that the number of people in absolute poverty in South Asia's remains at 22 per cent in respect of its global share but its share in world's absolute poor has increased from 40 to 47 per cent. "The number of out-of-school children has declined substantially from 50 to 13 million but still two major countries in the region - Pakistan and India - have the highest number of such children in the world after Nigeria."

According to the report the economic inequality gap between rural and urban areas is expanding. A little over 73 per cent of Pakistanis still live below poverty line with the percentage of rural poor registering an increase. The progress in life expectancy in Pakistan during the last 10 years is the slowest in the region. Percentage of malnourished children under five years of age remains stagnant at 38 per cent compared to 40 per cent in 1994. The report says maternal mortality rate per 100,000 live births increased significantly from 340 deaths in 1993 to 500 deaths in 2000. Incidence of tuberculosis per 100,000 populations also increased from 150 in 1995 to 181 in 2004. Public spending on health as percentage of GDP also went down from 0.8 per cent in 1995 to 0.4 per cent in 2004.

The report acknowledges that the huge human deprivations still prevailed in the region. Despite an overall reduction in poverty rates in all South Asian countries over the last decade, pace of reduction remains slower than the economic growth. There has not been a significant decline in the absolute number of poor with the result that the share of South Asia in the total number of poor in the world has increased significantly from 40 per cent in 1993 to 47 per cent in 2004. Rural poverty still remains an area of concern in many South Asian countries and income inequity is on the rise.

In terms of health, despite an improvement in the overall health indicators such as life expectancy and adult mortality, health indicators of the most vulnerable groups in South Asia - women and children - failed to show any improvement with the maternal mortality ratio actually worsening from 430 to 510 per 100,000 live births. The region continues to host the highest number of malnourished people in the world.

Although growth in GDP has received strong support from foreign direct investment, the overall saving and investment levels in Pakistan continue to be unsatisfactory. The share of agriculture in GDP has declined, implying that Pakistan's economy is undergoing significant structural change. The report says that Pakistan's economy has to address several serious challenges. It says the rising inequalities have led to a weaker link between economic growth and poverty reduction in Pakistan. There has been a gradual erosion of the consumption share of the lowest 20 percent and the consequent widening of the rich-poor gap. Speakers at the seminar on Saturday unanimously agreed that the South Asian countries made some substantial achievements in terms of human development in the region but there was still a long way to go with regard to proper allocation of funds in various sectors including health and education.

The concluding session witnessed some thorough discussions over achievements and shortfalls in the health and education sectors with particular reference to the most vulnerable groups - women and children. The participants debated the management of national health-care system in the South Asia and explored the chief factors behind the growing quality chasm between the public and private sector health facilities.

The key points of debate included literacy rate; enrolment at primary secondary and tertiary level; research activity; quality of education in respect of teachers' training and prescribed curriculum; duality in the education system; management of education system with regard to efficiency, equity and effectiveness.

In the health sector, the participants dilated upon the provision of basic health facilities especially to those living in far-flung areas, infant mortality rate, live expectancy and child fertility ratio in the South Asian region. Speakers said that life expectancy ratio in the South Asian countries has increased up to a considerable level and urged the respective government to take more health initiatives to move ahead in this direction.

Dr Riba Safdar while speaking on the occasion said that percentage of malnourished children under-5 years of age remained more or less stagnant at 38 percent as compared to 40 percent in 1994. "Major South Asian countries including Pakistan and India are spending less than one percent of total GDP on health that is a matter of grave concern for many living in remote areas who still lack even basic health facilities," she said.

She said Maldives and Sri Lanka has been spending two and five percent of their total GDP respectively on the health sector that helped improving the health indicators in these countries. "Private sector has been making huge investment in health sectors of Pakistan and India while in Maldives and Sri Lanka the public sectors have also aggressively participated along with the private sector to improve the basic heath infrastructure. She pointed out some areas in health and education sectors where more efforts were required on part of both public and private sectors. "Malnutrition is still a basic problem in the South Asian countries and very low improvement has been made in this regard during the last decade."