Planning Commission of Pakistan, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) jointly released earlier this week, a well-prepared report on the intensity of poverty in Pakistan.
The report underlines that Pakistan’s overall Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) has fallen from 55.2 percent to 38.8 percent of the population, whereas the intensity of poverty on account of deprivation of education, health and standard of living is recorded on the higher end of 50.9 percent.
According to the report, Pakistan’s 38.8 percent of the population lives in multidimensional poverty with the highest rate of poverty in FATA and Baluchistan followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Punjab.
Poverty has been globally recognised as a major threat to the economic and social stability of the world. It is estimated that in 2012, based on new data, around 900 million people world-wide lived in extreme poverty (12.8 percent of the global population).
The World Bank (WB) has set itself the target of bringing down the number of people living in extreme poverty to 3 percent of the world population by 2030.
The World Bank has revised the global poverty line pegged at US $1.25 per day to $1.90 per day. This has been arrived at by taking into consideration the average of national poverty lines of 15 poorest economies of the world. For Pakistan, it means Rs 200 per day.
Also, the new benchmark is Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) which takes into account multiple dimensions of poverty. There are many non-monetary indicators like health, education, sanitation, water and electricity which people experience as multiple dimensions of poverty.
MPI of 2015 counts 1.6 billion people as multi-dimensionally poor, with the largest global share in South Asia and the highest intensity in Sub- Sahara Africa.
The South Asia region, notably, comprising of Pakistan, Afghanistan, India Bangladesh and others is home to over 1.688 billion people who constitute 23 percent of world population. It is also home to world’s largest population of extreme poor people who are struggling for six decades for a better tomorrow.
Pakistan, with a population of 195 million people, is world’s 8th most populace country. The population growth rate is 1.92 percent, meaning an addition of over 3 million people per year. The population is projected to be 227 million by 2025.
The GDP annual growth in Pakistan averaged 4.9 percent from 1952 to 2015 with peaks of 6.8 percent in 1960s, 6.5 percent in the 80s and over 6.5 percent in the first half of 2000s. It recorded an all time low of -1.8 percent in 1952 and an all time high of 10.2 percent in 1954.
Poor state governance at most of the times and lack of government focus on poverty elimination, education, health and employment opportunities did not improve the life of the poor.
Some gains made were diluted by a fast population growth. For Pakistan to move from poverty to prosperity demands a sustainable GDP growth of over 7 percent and a good state governance.
India, with a population of 1.3 billion people, is world’s 2nd most populace country with a share of 17.8 percent of world’s population. It is second to China which has a population of 1.5 billion and is ranked as number 1.
India has managed to bring down its population growth rate to 1.2 percent from 2.32 percent in the 1980s. Its population is projected to sour to 1.5 billion by 2030. India is home to 26 percent of the global extreme poor which means that the largest number of poor people reside in India.
It is as well a place where the largest number of people escaped poverty on account of rapid and consistent economic growth over the last two decades. Between 1994 and 2012, the share of India’s population living in poverty was halved, falling from 45 percent to 22 percent.
Afghanistan’s population is 31.3 million of which 36 percent lives in multidimensional poverty. Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is US $1,885. Literacy rate is 31.7 and the Economic growth is stagnant at 2 percent.
Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated countries with 162 million people, of whom around 40 percent lives below the poverty line.
It is the world’s 8th most populace country with a population growth of 1.6 percent per annum. The fight against poverty in South Asia Region is sluggish with some country having done better than the other but not good enough. The region continues to be one of the poorest regions of the world.
The causes of poverty, by and large, are endemic corruption, outdated and incompetent governments, fast population growth, limited employment opportunities, poor education and health facilities, political volatility and border disputes.
Around 450 million people still live under multidimensional poverty in the region. The challenge is to lift them out of poverty in a short period of time to achieve prosperity in this most deprived part of the world.
For countries which have achieved growth in economy and social sector there is a threat of reversals as the structure and dynamics of growth are not robust enough to sustain shocks.
This could result in reversal for people who managed to cross over the threshold of poverty and moved over to lower middle class. The issue of poverty is the biggest threat to the security of region.
South Asia Region is perhaps the only left out region where member states have not forged economic cooperation.
All others have done it and are deriving economic, political and social benefits out of it – be it the European Union, the Asean states, Gulf states, Central Asian States and others.
By sharing resources and creating synergies they have lifted their population out of poverty.
The South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (Saarc) was established in 1980 to forge economic and social integration among the participating countries of the region. It never kicked off to effectively serve the purpose it was established for.
The principal cause of failure is mistrust among some member countries. Bilateral disputes among countries have a clear precedence over the objectives of the association and the mindset of a few of the member countries to work in isolation while competing with each other rather than co-operating with each other.
This mindset has not delivered positive results.
Unless the leadership of South Asian States gets rid of this state of mindset driven by the legacy of the past, urge for a regional integration and do away with the irresistible tendency of pulling down the neighbour nation rather than co-operating with it for long-term gains, the poor and unfortunate population of this region will continue to remain poor on account of short-sighted policies of their leaderships.
No nation can attain the goal of prosperity while its neighbour is in poverty.
(The writer is former President Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry)