. .

USAID reckons that Pakistan faces the twin challenges of reviving growth and reducing poverty

July 01 - 07, 2002

The U.S. agency for International Development (U.S. Aid), after the lapse of over 14 years, will resume its programme in Pakistan within the next two months. Mr. Mark S. Ward, the new country Director of US Aid who has already arrived in Pakistan had his first meeting with Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz on Monday.

US Aid had wound up Pakistan offices after Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in which Pakistan played a key role and almost fought a proxy war for the United States with the help of jihadi forces drawn over from all over the Muslim world and finance and arms provided by the US. Once the Soviet forces withdraw from the no win war against the jihadis, the US closed its aid offices. That was followed with wide ranging sanctions against Pakistan under the new world order. All these sanctions have been lifted & US aid is resuming its programme when Pakistan again became a partner of the US in its war against terrorism and attack on Afghanistan to destroy the remanants of the same jihadi forces which were successfully used for ousting Soviets.

In his meeting with the Finance Minister Mr. Ward outlined the development priorities of the US agency. According to the press statement of the Agency, USAID had a total outlay of $624.5 million in Pakistan for fiscal year 2002, including $600 million budgetary support provided in response to unstinted support against the terror. For the next fiscal year, USAID plans to spend $250 million in the country, including $200 million under the economic support fund.

According to details USAID would focus on five major projects including: Pakistan Primary Education and Literacy Programme; Emergency Economic Assistance to Pakistan; Agricultural Growth and Employment; and Improved Basic Health Services.

Under the primary education programme, USAID would assist in education policy planning and training; train teachers and develop curriculum; foster girls' education and develop community and private partnerships. This programme would particularly target areas bordering Afghanistan.

The USAID programme will expand teacher training and curriculum materials to improve the quality of public sector basic education and as by-product offer an alternative to the madaris (religious schools). There are roughly 350,000 government primary school teachers and 75,000 private primary school teachers in Pakistan. The training programme will operate in every province using the 123 teacher training institutions.

USAID report observed that the education sector, in particular, is in a critical state of disarray. While substantial investments have been made in building schools, access is not uniform and the overall quality of education remains very poor. Teachers are poorly qualified, frequently hired through political patronage and receive little in service training. Indicators for literacy, enrolment and retention demonstrate the dire need for systemic reform. Nationwide literacy rates are approximately 59 percent for men and 35 per cent for women. The average years of schooling for a male are 1.9 years while that of females is only 0.7 years. Thirty-seven per cent of boys and 55 per cent of girls never enter schools; of those who do, 50 per cent drop out within the first five years. Only 29 per cent of children make it to the secondary school level. This systemic failure of the education system stems from issues of both access and quality, seriously hindering Pakistan's future development prospects.

Under the economic support fund, USAID provided a grant of $600 million to the country as balance of payments and budget support under PL 107-38, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Recovery from and Response to Terrorist Attacks on the United States. It observed that US assistance would help the country during time of economic hardship that had resulted from its support to the international war on terrorism. The budget support was provided through a cash transfer agreement and will help Pakistan sustain robust social spending for specific edudation, health and employment creation programmes.

A report of USAID estimated that Pakistan's over support to the United States to destroy the Al Qaeda had a tremendous economic impact on the country. Based on recent projections from the International Monetary Fund, Pakistan faced a reduction in foreign exchange earnings by approximately $2.5 billion during 2001-2002 alone. During fiscal 2002-03, USAID plans to extend $200 million economic support fund to Pakistan to meet critical foreign exchange needs, either for debt repayment or for the importation of acceptable US goods and services.

USAID reckons that Pakistan faces the twin challenges of reviving growth and reducing poverty. This will require rapid economic growth in agriculture which represents 26 per cent of GDP and employs 44 per cent of the labour force. GDP growth hinges on crop performance. Pakistan's agriculture depends on irrigation, yet over the past two decades the productivity of the sub-sector had declined steadily due to the deterioration of the physical infrastructure and the institutional capacity to manage water at all levels. The country also faces the challenge of land degradation.

Pakistan's major health indicators demonstrate large unmet needs. The total fertility rate is 4.8 contraceptive prevalence is only 28 per cent and the population growth rate is 2.2 per cent per year (compared with India's 1.7 per cent). Estimated infant mortality is 85 per 1000 live births, under-five mortality is 103 per 1000 live birth and maternal mortality is 533 per 100,000. Immunization rates are low with less than 60 per cent of one year olds fully immunized. Twenty-six per cent of children under five are moderately to severely underweight; only 1 per cent of young children receive vitamin A supplementation; and only 19 per cent of households use iodised salt.