The coronavirus cases are currently on the rise and over 7000 people in the country have been detected along 143 deaths (till April 18) with this deadly virus that originated from China’s Wuhan city and now spread almost all over the world. Prime Minister Imran Khan admitted that Pakistan does not have the capability and resources but will strongly deal with the novel coronavirus. Imran Khan asked the international community to consider writing off loans to developing countries such as Pakistan to help them deal with the crisis.
The country with poor quarantine facilities, unsanitary conditions and lack of hygienic facilities is unable to fight the epidemic. Even the doctors treating the coronavirus patients lack the basic equipment like masks and gloves. The friends like China extended a helping hand to Pakistan to combat coronavirus outbreak. The lockdowns in the country is playing havoc with the lives of millions of daily wagers, poor and deprived. According to the latest poverty estimates, 24% of Pakistan’s population lives below the national poverty line; which includes 31% in rural areas and 13% in urban areas. Further, 38.8% of the national population is poor based on the multidimensional poverty index— 54.6% in rural areas and 9.4% in urban areas.
From independent estimate, Pakistan is a country where up to 40% of its 220 million population live below poverty line- on less than $1 a day or less. Despite tall claims of the officials about putting the economy on growth track, it is undeniable fact that, economic divide in the country would widen in the coming days as dependence on foreign loans would hurt economy, ultimately pushing more and more people below the poverty line. The country’s ballooning external debt and liabilities continue to burden its economy.
Surging poverty levels and rising inflationary pressure have hardest hit the poor and ordinary Pakistani in the past two years of the present government. Though the government shows its commitment to alleviate poverty and rehabilitate the weak and poor sections of the society, yet there are no significant measures taken by the government in practical. There is a dire need to take practical steps for supporting the poor and reducing their vulnerability. The government should create conditions for the development of insurance markets, encourage the use of other risk-spreading financial instruments and design economic and regulatory incentives for risk reduction behavior.
First of all, prevailing poverty in the country should be more comprehensively measured through an index that uses multiple indicators. These may be broadly categorized as socioeconomic and demographic indicators related to income and wealth, housing, transport and communication, education, health and gender equality.
The economic inequality in Pakistan has grown even though consumption based poverty has dropped from 57.9 percent to 29.5 percent between 1998-99 and 2013-14, and multidimensional poverty – which includes health, education and living standards – has fallen from 55.2 percent to 38.8 percent between 2004-5 and 2014-15, according to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report of July 2016. The report says that in 1987-88, the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, was 0.35 and that this number has risen to 0.41 in 2013-14. Because of this inequality, the report says, economic growth is affected, crimes increase, talent is wasted, and social mobility is hindered. Therefore, the most critical challenge of the 21st century is achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which includes ending poverty in all its forms and leaving no one behind. According to the report, one of the world’s great achievements in the past few decades is the significant fall in global poverty. Between 1990 and 2012, the number of people living with $1.90 a day has fallen by more than a billion. However, despite this, income inequality has increased within and across the countries.
According to the World Bank, the Gini coefficient for Pakistan has fallen. Spatial inequalities, however, plague Pakistan too and a report by the UN titled ‘Multidimensional Poverty in Pakistan’ for 2014-15, states that although poverty in urban areas of Sindh stands at 10.6% an alarming 75.5% of rural areas in the province are mired by poverty. Similarly, although Punjab has accounted for the highest reduction in poverty but districts in southern Punjab remain starkly poor.
There are multiple factors pushing people below poverty line in Pakistan. Unemployment is a major factor. With an unemployment rate up to 10%, unemployed youth continues to experience the pangs of poverty for they are unable to meet basic needs of life. Unemployment is rampant not only among the unskilled labour but also among the educated youth, many of them with professional skills. The unemployment rate in Pakistan has surged at a time when major portion of the population belongs to the working age. The country’s technical vocational education and training system lacks meaningful participation of stakeholders, and not geared to meet the market needs. Due to shortage of skilled labour and necessary equipment, local industry is finding it hard to adapt to the demands of the work force mobility, particularly in the implementation of innovative processes. The existing training institutions are not capable of imparting and developing skills required for competitiveness, productivity and employment. There is a need to standardize training, raise its social perception, make it available to marginalized sections of the society and improve the mechanisms for its delivery.
Investment in human capital formation means investment in education and health sectors. Human development provides a wide range of choices and opportunities to the people for employment, nutrition, education and health care. Sustainable growth and poverty reduction objectives are concomitantly linked to significant investment in human capital.
Pakistan is yet to make significant attainments in the human development index (HDI), which focuses on measurable dimensions of human development such as living a long and healthy life, being educated and having a decent standard of living. Thus, HDI combines measures of life expectancy, school enrolment, literacy, and income. In the country’s rural areas, the health status is relatively poor.
The urban- rural divide in the country also creates inequality of opportunities with the poor in rural areas having little access to education, health and financial services. Policies should be designed to focus on broadening the coverage of social spending, to achieve efficiency and equity. Efforts should be made to enhance the coverage of financial services to the bottom 40% of the population. The government should provide a legal protection workers in order to ensure job security and flexibility.