Aug 20 - Sep 2, 20

The food security situation in Pakistan has aggravated over the past four years, resulting in a vast increase in the population falling below the minimum acceptable level of dietary consumption. According to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals report for 2012, two-digit inflation and high food inflation significantly decreased the purchasing power of people, especially the poor.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has said that recent devastating floods and storms in Asia and the Pacific are threatening the progress on poverty reduction and other development activities.

Despite claims of the government providing succor to the distressed poor through different measures, the government appeared to refrain from providing poverty figures in the Pakistan Economic Survey 2011-12. Due to double-digit inflation for the last five successive years and worsening conditions, the government was not able to make this figure public. It is now learnt from reliable sources the government will announce soon the poverty figures.

According to the World Bank estimates, 53 percent population in the country has been living below the poverty line. According to the World Bank, Pakistan poverty figures had reached to 53 percent from the last year's 49 percent and the national agenda was needed to counter it.

India, the world's second fastest growing economy, has been ranked as poorer than Pakistan in a United Nations report on global poverty. The report also finds more 'gender equality' in Pakistan than in India. It found 53.7 percent of Indians suffering from this broader kind of poverty, compared with 49 per cent of Pakistanis.

It is astonishing India is ranked below Pakistan and Bangladesh on gender equality which depicts maternal death rates, teenage pregnancies, access to education, and the number of women parliamentarians and in the workplace.

The ILO report says that South Asia now accounts for almost half of the worldís working poor, estimated to be 46.2 per cent in 2011. The fall in working poverty in South Asia is due to a rise in real wages over the past decades.

Indicating the high share of employment in agriculture, working poverty prevails at very high level. Based on a $2 a day international poverty line, South Asia has globally the highest proportion of working poor at 67.3 per cent in 2011, down from 86.0 per cent in 1991.

About 75 percent of the population in Pakistan lives below the poverty line and a large majority of this population comprises of women and girls. Women's real contribution to the national economy is still not counted in the gross domestic product of the country.

According to the government of Pakistan over 70 percent of rural women work in agriculture and livestock and over three fourth urban female labour forces works in the non-formal sector. Women continue to suffer from less pay, training, legal protection, social protection and security, health and maternity benefits under labour laws. Women workers working in residences (64 percent of entire female work force) are not counted; rather they are exploited by the owners of their houses. There is an immediate need to deal this alarming woman poverty through social security and protection measures.

Over one-third of families in Pakistan are forced to cut down their food budget because of increasing food prices, economics and financial problems, and up to 35 per cent of deaths in children below five years of age occur because of food shortage. According to the report, Pakistan together with Bangladesh, India, Nigeria and Peru is among the countries where more than half of the worldís malnourished children live.

Recent economic turmoil, deteriorarating law and order, terrorism, rises in prices of food have made accessing a nutritious diet more and more difficult for the poor people. Widespread flood in two successive years has destroyed crops and livelihoods, contributing to the price rise. Consequently, 58 per cent of households are considered food insecure, Sindh being the worst affected with 72 per cent of its population going down in this category.

Estimates set between 24 and 40 per cent of the country's total population below the poverty line. The report shows that India holds the highest rate ó 48 per cent ó of stunting amongst children, but Pakistan is not far behind with 43.6 per cent of its children officially reported stunted.

Save the Children warns that Pakistan will have the highest percentage of stunted children population over the next 15 years if a strong action is not initiated immediately. The stunting rate in Pakistan during the last 10 years has gone up by about 50 per cent.

The report asks the provincial governments to make nutrition part of their health strategies and annual development plans and allocate sufficient funds to ensure implementation of minimum package of direct nutrition interventions. The government should expand the role of female health workers to carry out appraisal and respond to severe malnutrition at the community level.

In Pakistan where about two-thirds of the people live in rural areas, rural poverty is a major unstable factor. Nearly 67 per cent of Pakistan's households are landless.

Rural poverty was going down in Pakistan in the 1970s and 1980s but started increasing steadily during the 1990s. The poverty increase trend in the 1990s is horrifying. In terms of the spatial distribution of landlessness, 86 per cent of the households in Sindh were landless (landless plus non-agricultural), followed by 78 per cent in Balochistan and 74 per cent in Punjab.

There is widely circulated poverty in Pakistan. Almost one-third of Pakistan's population or about 60 million of its people live below the poverty line. According to the latest estimates of the World Bank, almost 40 percent of 107 developing countries are highly exposed to the poverty. Pakistan is ranked among the 43 countries most exposed to poverty risks.

Poverty is widespread in Pakistan and is mostly a rural phenomenon. Nearly, two thirds of our population lives in rural areas. Most of them depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Many of them lack basic facilities such as safe drinking water, primary health care, education and other social services.

A World Bank report titled Sparing lives; better reproductive health for poor women in South Asia has disclosed that Pakistan's 37.4 percent children under the age of five are malnourished. The South Asia region still has nearly 400 million poor people out of a population of 1.42 billion. A high poverty ratio has decreased Pakistan's spending on social sector further.

According to Pakistan's Planning Commission, poverty rate has jumped from 23.9 to 37.5 percent in the last three years. The commission has estimated that in 2005 there were 35.5 million people living below the poverty line but in 2008 their number increased to over 64 million. Consequently, unemployment has also increased.

Furthermore, 40 percent of the urban population lives in slum areas. Decline in social sector spending is increasing poverty and has cut down the standard of living in the country. High inflation, price hike and shortage of commodities have also increased to the problem.

The increase in the share of provinces in NFC award and the 18th Amendment for decentralization of governance at the provincial level will help to eradicate at the provincial level.

The government at all cost must wage a war against poverty. It should generate greater efforts for job creation in order to reduce the high levels of poverty. Infrastructure should be developed to curb the rising ratio of poverty. Housing sector should be promoted and encouraged through a well planned incentives package.

Transportation sector should also be activated. Better law and order situation, foreign and domestic investment encouragement, removal of energy crisis would help in the restoration of business and industrial activities in reducing rising poverty. Besides these, cheap education and better health facilities should be provided to the poor and needy ones.

According to the survey, the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) provided relief to over four million recipients, including internally displaced persons and flood victims. Almost Rs122 billion have been disbursed to BISP beneficiaries up to March, 2012 since the launch of the scheme, and it has an allocation of Rs50 billion for the fiscal year 2011-12. BISP recipients could rise to 7 million once the on-going nationwide poverty scorecard survey is completed.

The overall disbursement of poverty alleviation funds during July-December 2012 was Rs8.5 billion and these funds were dedicated for micro credit, enterprise development, community based infrastructure and energy projects, livelihood enhancement and protection, social mobilization and capacity building.