June 25 2007: Poverty remains a serious concern in Pakistan as a large segment of the population lives in poverty. According to the rebased GDP numbers, the per capita income comes to US$845.
Poverty rates, which had fallen substantially in the 1980s and early 1990s, started to rise again toward the end of the decade. More importantly, differences in income per capita across regions have persisted or widened. Poverty varies significantly among rural and urban areas and from province to province, from a low of 14% in urban Sindh to 41% in rural NWFP.Pakistan has grown much more than other low-income countries, but has failed to achieve social progress commensurate with its economic growth.
The educated and well-off urban population lives not so differently from their counterparts in other countries of similar income range. However, the poor and rural inhabitants of Pakistan are being left behind. For example, access to sanitation in Pakistan in rural areas is 30% lower than in other countries with similar income. According to World Bank, what is startling is the fact of highest incidence of absolute landlessness, highest share of tenancy and the lowest share of land ownership in Sindh.
The wealthy landlords with holdings in excess of 100 acres, who account for less than one per cent of all farmers in the province, own 150 per cent more land than the combined holdings of 62 per cent of small farmers in the province with land holdings of less than five acres. Crops and livestock have been devastated by the four years drought exposing more than 50 per cent of its rural population to extreme poverty. Sindh being on the lower riparian, water supply remains less than what is needed and hence all the problems. The World Bank found Sindh to be endowed with many characteristics of a high growth region.
At one time it was the most industrialised province accounting for 40 per cent of the country’s manufacturing output in the country. Rich in mineral resources, the province possesses one-third of total deposits of the country. At one time it was the most efficient producer of agricultural goods. The per capita income in Karachi was 55 per cent higher than the national average at the time of independence.
Karachi was the first city in Asia to have a full-fledged airport and its seaport was the main supplier of cotton and grains to Europe in 19th and 20th century.The city’s seaport is well connected by extensive road and rail network with all parts of the country and is well extended to India in East and up to Central Asia in North. The province has highest literate population, a strong entrepreneurial class, a large pool of educated labour with relatively low wages and home to many institutions of higher learning, According to the World Bank report “Sindh should be on a fast growth track and Karachi should have been a flourishing metropolis’’.Instead of building on the initial advantages to become country’s growth engine, the province, “has been gradually losing position of pre-eminence’’ the report notes and goes on to illustrate its observations with facts that show the rise in unemployment in the province.
The report warns of deterioration in unemployment situation as it counts 610,000 unemployed in the year 2003-04 and nearly half a million persons are likely to be get added each year for next ten years. “Without a sustained growth rate of around 7-8 per cent per year, the number of unemployed in Sindh could go as high as 1. 6 million by 2013-14’’ warns the report.The province’s share in the national gross domestic production (GDP) is found to have fallen in almost all sectors with the largest declines recorded in large scale manufacturing, finance and insurance, transport and communication sectors.
Another significant observation of the World Bank is that the Sindh’s development indicators are not only low in absolute term, but are growing less rapidly relative to rest of the country. For example, its literacy increased by five percentage points from 51 to 56 between 1998-99 and 2004-05, while corresponding increase in the country was eight per cent, from 45 to 53 per cent.With a 41 per cent net primary enrolment rate, it was one percentage behind the national average. Poverty headcount ratio increased from 23.
4 to 40. 4 per cent between 1995-96 to 01-02 when corresponding national poverty was 30. 1 per cent in 95-96 and 36. 4 per cent in 01-02.
The report has raised issues as to why Sindh has grown below its potential and is lagging behind the other provinces in growth, poverty reduction and social indicators. The report addresses the growing inequality and disparity within the province across various dimensions.How can these barriers be removed, enabling the province to accelerate its economic growth, improve distribution and reduce poverty? This is one question that the World Bank tries to answer in the context of sound economic policies of the federal government. But in this utter dismal socio-economic scenario, the World Bank report finds light at the end of tunnel.
“Fortunately, the favourable conditions at the global and national levels and the province’s own existing and potential strengths provide an opportunistic setting for the government to embark on a broad and ambitious reform programme’’ the report suggests.The report notes polarisation in Sindh political environment, where political parties are formed on ethnic lines and it pleads for building a consensus in favour of reform among the existing political parties. According to the WB report, it is the only province where politicians are mobilised on ethnic lines with conflicting interests. It is well known that in Sindh, the factors related to poverty reflect both the disappointing levels of recent economic growth and a range of difficult environmental problems, many of them related to an acute shortage of water and a poor and unreliable water supply.
The livelihood prospects of the poorest groups are also affected by the extreme economic inequalities that persist in many rural areas and the continued prevalence of social institutions and different forms of violence that impact negatively on their lives. The sub-sites in Badin are indicative of the particular problems facing poor people in the coastal belt, as well as of generic issues affecting the rural poor. In Naushero Feroze, reflects the conditions in the riverine zones on the banks of the River Indus.Khairpur is a case from the arid or semi-desert zones that account for a large area of the province, as is a part of the Tharparkar site.
The economic and social conditions of the irrigated and rain fed agricultural areas respectively are well represented in the reports from Mirpurkhas, Nawabshah, Jacobabad and Ghotki on the one hand, and Dadu, Thatta and part of Tharparkar on the other. The greatest single issue in rural Sindh, however, is the social exclusion of the poor from ownership of, or reliable access to, agricultural land and related natural assets (water supplies, grazing).Especially in the case of the haris, who contributes large segment of population in the province. In urban areas income from employment is a major source of livelihood and unemployment, therefore, is a major problem.
Employment opportunities are affected not just by competition from other people but also by the “contract system” operated by employers, which results in low job security and the denial of fair and just employment rights and conditions.Low wages paid to workers are a major concern. Cultural barriers that reduce the opportunities for women to work outside the home and increase household income further compound the difficulties that low wages cause. It is established and notorious that economic and social progress in Sindh is hampered by the twin factors of a challenging natural environment and a system of social inequality that has resisted serious efforts to reform it since partition and before.
From several sites, the clear impression was that, for many, life was better before partition, when the River Indus flowed with all its majesty and provided livelihoods to the fisherfolk and to the landless who gathered fruit and honey from the riverine forests. The old towns, like those of Naushero Feroze and Nawabshah, bustled with small businesses, and schools were functional. Not withstanding the tall claims made by the government about carrying out huge development works in the province and allocation of funds for the betterment of infrastructure, it has failed to achieve social progress commensurate with its economic growth.