The poverty level mounts in Balochistan, as the province reels under the lockdown measures to fight coronavirus pandemic. Present PTI government of Prime Minister Imran Khan must take steps for supporting the poor, reducing their vulnerability and recovering from disasters and pandemics like the current one— COVID-19. The government should also 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. Steps need to be taken to stimulate coordinated actions and to mobilize regional resources for investments in risk mitigation.
Balochistan is the least developed province and hence more vulnerable. It has been observed that poor households and communities are more vulnerable to natural hazards, as they take a long period to recover from the deadly effects of disasters and pandemics.
Poorly planned development can turn a recurring natural phenomenon into a human and economic disaster. What transforms a natural event into a human and economic disaster? The fundamental problems of development that a region faces are the very same problems that contribute to its vulnerability to the catastrophic effects of natural hazards and pandemics. The principal causes of vulnerability in the region include the persistence of widespread urban and rural poverty, the degradation of the region’s environment resulting from the mismanagement of natural resources, inefficient public policies, and lagging and misguided investments in infrastructure.
Despite the current COVID-19 pandemic, Balochistan has been reeling under the devastating impacts of natural calamities like drought, flashfloods and heavy rains for the past many years. It is because of geographical formations and unique geological features of the province that it is more prone to natural disasters, such as floods, droughts, cyclones, and earthquakes. Balochistan has four geological regions — the Central Mountain Ranges, Chaghi Hills and Raskoh Ranges, Makran Mountain Ranges and the Kharan Basin. There are many areas in northern Balochistan including Quetta, which are located in active seismic zone. Quetta earthquake of 1935 was the deadliest with 35,000 fatalities. It devastated Quetta and the adjoining areas.
The pandemic-hit Balochistan is the poorest of all provinces with standards of living lagging substantially behind the rest of the country. Socio-economic indicators in Balochistan amply reveal that it is far and far behind from the other provinces and it needs more resources to come at par with other developed regions of Pakistan. Poverty in the province is a consequence of several factors, including geography and low human capital. Many of these factors increase the cost of providing social services in the province. The backwardness rules supreme across the province. The people have run out of civic facilities and job opportunities at large. Law and order problem has also aggravated poverty in the province. It has affected each and every sector of the provincial economy putting most of the development projects in cold storage. Today, the worsening security is the gravest risk to the provincial economy, as the investors are unwilling to start work on new projects or complete the ongoing development schemes in the restive province. The province direly needs investment for the development of its enormous resources, which is essential to alleviate poverty. Only 6 percent of the land is cultivable and productivity is low because of the arid conditions. The groundwater is rapidly being depleted. The rugged and inaccessible terrain, limited water resources for irrigation, large illiterate population, ethnic diversity and traditional women’s status are added challenges to economic growth and human development. What has actually limited the scope for financing the social sector development in Balochistan — the challenging social sector indicators, constraints in social service provision, and low investments in the social sector.
A World Bank report titled ‘State of Water Supply, Sanitation and Poverty in Pakistan’, said that Balochistan has by far the highest rural poverty rate, with more than 62 percent of its rural population living below the poverty line. The report released in November 2018 noted that districts in the country varied widely in poverty, with the poorest district — Washuk in Balochistan — at 72.5 percent. Much of this variation reflected differences in poverty across provinces. The vast majority of the 40 poorest districts were in Balochistan. The report said, not a single district in Balochistan was among the richest 40. The divide between Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab in the north and Sindh and Balochistan in the south was apparent and quite stark.
Human development indicators are the weakest among the four provinces and improvements will need concerted efforts over the long term. Only 20 percent of the people in the province have access to safe drinking water compared to 86 percent in the rest of Pakistan. Village electrification is only 25 percent compared to 75 percent in the rest of the country. Infant mortality rate per 1,000 people is 108 in the province as against 100 in other parts of the country. The water-borne diseases like typhoid are also common due to lack of access of majority of population to the clean drinking water. According to an estimate, tuberculosis incidence is 177 per 100,000 population. The annual parasite incidence of 6.56 for malaria in Balochistan is almost 30 times the parasite incidence for the whole country. Half of school age children attend elementary school, and one third of children 12–23 months are immunized.
Though poverty in the province is more “shared” poverty, income-based inequities in human development must be addressed. The backwardness and poverty should be explicitly incorporated in the allocation of shared transfers, and they 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, gender equality, etc. for example, some of the indicators used in the human development index would be relevant. There is a high need to focus on improvement and formation of human capital for Balochistan to tap internal and external markets, and capitalize on market-driven economic growth. A healthy population can work better for the economic progress of the province fully utilizing its capabilities and skills. For obtaining this health capital in the province, there is a high need to resolve basic and pressing issues related to the health sector.
The situation of basic amenities and access to education is also far below the ratio of other provinces. Nearly one half of the local population relies on unprotected wells, ponds, canals, or streams for their drinking water needs. Drinking water is often polluted and distributed without treatment. According to an estimate, only in five districts (out of 30 districts), sanitation is accessible to more than 51% of the population; in nine districts adequate sanitation is available to 26-50% of the population, and in 13 districts, household sanitation coverage is only 4-25%. Access to sewage disposal infrastructure is largely absent. In most districts, less than 3% of the population has access to wastewater disposal facilities.
Present PTI government is for making investment in human development to upgrade the standard of living of the poor, deprived and neglected sections of people in the country. For the present government, the aggravating poverty in Balochistan should be the major challenge.