Prob­lem of poverty

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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