Problem of poverty
Poverty in Pakistan reveals itself in many forms: infants in Thar dying for lack of medicine and nutrition and house collapse killing its inmates as recently happened in Sukkur. Poverty also means that a family cannot afford to meals a day or send its children to school. There are islands of prosperity in Pakistan and its city roads are cluttered with expensive cars and palatial dwellings. But beyond these islands, there is this vast ocean of poverty. How deep is poverty in Pakistan and is it going to go away anytime soon? Eminent economist Dr Kaiser Bengali depicts a frightening picture: "The richest 10 percent of Pakistanis pay 12 percent of their income in taxes while the poorest 10 percent end up giving 16 percent in taxes ... our growth level model just manifests increase in elite's consumption patterns".
Since a large part of our national economy is undocumented, it works its way into the lives of people in myriad mysterious ways. "We do not have authenticated data to measure the actual level of income and wealth inequality in Pakistan and how in recent years the fortunes of rich increased," says Oxfam Pakistan's Country Director Mohammad Qizilbash. But what is known is that the minimum wage in Pakistan is but a "fraction of living wage on which a family of four can live a decent life in urban centres". As for the rural Pakistan, the spectre of poverty walks tall and is too obvious - as it looms large in in Lower Punjab and Upper Sindh.
As pointed out by the latest Oxfam survey, every country has its own particular rich- poor wealth gap scenario. For instance, while Singapore and India fuel wealth gap, Indonesia and South Korea are trying to reduce inequality, mainly through policies on social spending, tax and labour rights. But on the whole the worldwide inequality has reached a ' crisis level', says the Oxfam survey. Tackling inequality does not depend on a country's wealth but on its political will. Hong Kong is one of the richest economies but its government "ignores growing wealth gap and social inequality" as it "puts too much of its resources into economic and infrastructure development, and tends to neglect the situation of the underprivileged".
In Pakistan too, we neglected the plight of the poor and invested heavily in development of mega, urban- based infrastructures. Consequently, the Oxfam's Commitment to Reducing Inequality ( CRI) survey has ranked Pakistan at number 139 out of 152 countries. In education, health and social protection it is at 146. Of course, there is no magic wand with the new government to effect immediate reversal of this trend, but there is the urgent need to take that road. If China is a soft superpower today, it is because of its commitment to augment its people's potential by providing them opportunities to have good education and sound health.
In Pakistan these essential inputs that can enrich our massive human capital have been criminally neglected. These two sectors are being treated as stepchildren. Were the residents of that village in Sukkur, which lost its nine children, economically comfortable they would not have overlooked the danger embedded in that crumbling mud wall. And were the hospital where the injured were brought well- stocked with life- saving medicines and proper care setup the two who died there could have been saved. There is the dire need to match government policies with the ground realities. Both at private and public levels, meaningful and constructive policies and practices should be devised in order to stem the rising tide of socio- political and economic polarization.