The Prime Minister Imran Khan unveiled the poverty alleviation initiative of his government by laying the foundation of a shelter house in Lahore. Speaking on this occasion, the Prime Minster said it would be coordinated effort of all state organs working on the poverty reduction project. He said that all relevant state organs will work under one umbrella. Acknowledging the advice and guidance of China, the Prime Minister said, “We have learnt from China visit how they did the historic job of bringing 700 million people out of poverty in just three decades.”He said that setting up shelter homes would be the first step towards transformation of Pakistan into a welfare state. He quoted a Chinese proverb which goes, “A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Poverty situation had become worse over the past 45 years as economic policies were designed to benefit the elite classes of the country at the cost of masses. In all the tenures of PPP and PML-N governments national resources were spent to further enrich the feudal and mercantile classes with the result that 80 million people now live below the poverty line and 120 million people are confronted with food insecurity. Millions of children have stunted growth because of malnutrition.
According to the World Bank report, “State of water supply, sanitation and poverty in Pakistan,” 80 percent of poor Pakistanis live in rural areas. These areas remain much poorer than urban areas and are far more disadvantaged in all respect of service delivery. The present conditions show that whatever efforts were made for poverty decline has not reduced the urban-rural gap. The national estimate tells that 45 percent people live below the poverty line but the World Bank has assessed it 62 percent which is indeed very alarming. The report highlights that rural-urban poverty gap is 30 percentage points the widest in the province of Sind which is continuously being ruled by self proclaimed pro-poor political party. In contrast the urban-rural gap in Punjab and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa is 13 and 15 percentage points, respectively.
The World Bank report belies the tall claims of PP leadership and certain TV anchors and print media columnist of significant improvement in service delivery in health and education in the province of Sindh over the past 11 years. The report notes that poverty head count in rural Pakistan is twice as much in urban areas at the rate of 36 percent versus 18 percent. The gap has remained virtually unchanged since 2001-02. It implies that poverty reduction and growth programme of President Musharraf government did not alter the poverty scenario. Combined with the slow pace of urbanization—only 35 percent of the country’s population lives in urban areas—this gap indicated that 80 percent of Pakistan’s poor people continued to live in rural areas.
The rural areas are the most disadvantaged in all respects of service delivery. Nationally, the rural enrolment rate is 13 percentage points lower for primary schools, and 11 percentage points for middle schools than in urban areas. For girls these gaps stood at 17 and 14 percentage points respectively. The rural female literacy rate at 28 percent is less than half of that in urban areas. Rural children are 8.5 percentage points less likely than urban children to have adequate immunization by three years of age. Rural women are 10 percentage points to give birth to babies in a medical facility or hospital. Rural households are also less likely to have access to key utilities. In terms of district-wise poverty index, Abottabad of KP is the richest at headcount of 5.8 percentage points and poorest district is Washuk in Baluchistan at 72 percentage points. Much of this variation reflected difference in poverty exists across provinces. The vast majority of 40 percent distracts are in Baluchistan and Sindh.
Poverty has a direct linkage with unemployment. The policy of nationalisation of private industrial enterprises and banks in the decade of 1970 decelerated the economic growth and substantially curtailed the employment opportunities in the private sector. Animosity towards the construction of big storage dams and high prices of better variety of seeds and agriculture inputs created a persistent crisis in this sector accentuating unemployment in rural areas. Let us hope that PTI government will formulate viable polices for the taking the agriculture and industry out of the prevailing crisis and fulfill its promise of human resource development as the incumbent Prime Minster neither belong to the oppressive feudal class nor to the exploitative mercantile class.