POVERTY IN PAKISTAN
Research Analyst, PAGE
Feb 8 - 14, 2010
Growing poverty is a matter of concern. Although the middle-class in Pakistan has grown to 35 million, nearly one-quarter of the population is still classified as poor. In 2007, Pakistan's Human Development Index (HDI) figured 0.572, higher than Bangladesh's 0.543, but lower than neighboring India's 0.612.
Incidences of poverty in Pakistan rose to 32-35% in 1999 from 22-26% in 1991. However, poverty rate dropped afterwards to 22%. According to the HDI, 60.3% of Pakistan's population lives on under $2 a day, compared to 75.6% of India and 81.3% of Bangladesh, and some 22.6% lives under $1 a day compared to 41.6% in India and 49.6% in Bangladesh.
Wealth distribution in Pakistan is highly skewed with 10% of the population earning 27.6% of total income.
According to the United Nations Human Development Report, Pakistan's human development indicators, especially those for women, are not satisfactory as compared to countries with comparable level of per-capita income.
Pakistan has higher infant mortality rate of 88 per 1000 than the South Asian average of 83 per 1000.
SPATIAL DISTRIBUTION OF POVERTY
At the time of partition in 1947, Pakistan inherited the most backward parts of South Asia with only one university, one textile mill, and one jute factory. The country made tremendous progress and its per capita GNP improved largely in South Asia since then.
During the recent past, poverty elimination programs helped many of the poor to rise above the grinding poverty. However, the global financial crisis and surge of war on terror halted the progress in its track.
Historically, poverty in Pakistan has been higher in rural areas than in cities.
POVERTY AND GENDER
The gender discrimination in Pakistani society also shapes the distribution of poverty in the country. Traditional gender roles restrict the woman to home, and define the man as the breadwinner. Consequently, the society invests far less in women than men. Women in Pakistan suffer from dearth of opportunities throughout their lives. Female literacy in Pakistan was much less than 68.2% of male literacy, as of 2008.
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL VULNERABILITY
Vulnerability stands for the people who are more likely to fall into poverty because of economic and social marginalization. Vulnerable households have low expenditure levels.
While economic vulnerability is a key factor in the rise of poverty in Pakistan, vulnerability also arises out of social powerlessness, political disenfranchisement, and weak institutions.
Other causes include harassment of people by corrupt government officials, as well as their underperformance, exclusion and denial of basic rights to people.
Lack of adequate public healthcare facilitates make people to seek private healthcare, which is expensive.
Failure of the state to secure lives and properties of people is also a factor behind the vulnerability of the poor.
Until 1990s, the manner in which power was exercised to manage the country's economic resources for the development emerged as Pakistan's foremost hurdle in development.
Corruption and political instabilities resulted in reduction of business confidence, deterioration of economic growth, reduced public expenditures, poor delivery of public services, and disappearance of the rule of law.
The perceived security threat on the border with India has dominated Pakistan's political culture and has led to the domination of military in politics and excessive spending on defense at the expense of social sectors.
Pakistan has been under the military dictatorship for more than half of its existence. Besides, rapid changes in governments gave way to inconsistent policies as well as half-baked implementation of development plans.
Regular military interventions played havoc with the country. In such regimes, development priorities are determined not by considering potential beneficiaries but by liking and disliking of bureaucrats and political agents which are often unaware of the needs of the people.
Political instability and macroeconomic imbalances were reflected in downgraded ratings of the country by international financial institutions, and capital flight and declining foreign direct investment inflows.
Pakistan's major cities are home to an estimated 1.2 million street children including beggars and scavengers. These wanderers are easy catch for anti-state elements and terrorists who use them for their ulterior motives. Unfortunately, a large portion of such kids consumes drugs to stave off hunger, loneliness, and fear. They are highly susceptible to sexually transmitted and other deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
Feudal lords who possess enormous tracts of farmlands dominate Pakistan's agriculture sector while majority of farmers farming on subsistence are their subject. Subsistence farmers or sharecroppers are dependent on their landlords for survival.
Poverty is likely to rise further until all-out efforts are not waged to remove basic avoidable problems such as gender discrimination, feudalism, income inequality, undemocratic promptness to name few.