Poverty in Pakistan

Pakistan’s poverty profile is not particularly encouraging. A World Bank report on poverty assessment in Pakistan released recently, as well as some other studies, indicate that poverty has recently declined somewhat but they do not deny the continuation of substantial poverty throughout the country. Despite having sustained an average annual growth rate of about 6 percent, Pakistan's social and economic indicators confirm this conclusion. About one-fourth of the population, or nearly 30 million people, live below the poverty line in Pakistan. They suffer from low-calorie intake, inadequate access to education, sanitation, services, clean water and healthy environment. At the time, the pattern of income distribution has worsened over time. The Gini ratio, usually used as a measure of income disparity deteriorated from 0.330 in 1970-71 to 0.407 in 1990-91, the latest year for which data are available. In these 20 years, the share in national income of the lowest 20 percent of the population has declined from 8.4 percent to 5.7 percent. On the other hand, the share of the highest 20 percent of the population has gone up from 41.5 percent to 49.3 percent over the same period.

Even with more attention being given to the social sectors in the recent past, the impact of the past neglect of these sectors is quite apparent. Pakistan even now spends only about 2.5 percent GDP on education against Unesco recommendation of 4 percent for developing countries. There is no surprise, therefore two out of three Pakistani adults are illiterate and female literacy rate is still lower. One of three primary school-age children are never enrolled in a school and almost half of those who are enrolled quickly drop out. The health and sanitation indicators are no better than those of education. In fact the mortality rate in Pakistan is about 40 percent higher than that prevailing in the group of all developing countries. More than half of the children of age five and less suffer from malnutrition, and nearly one third of pregnant and lactating women are under-weight. Life expectancy at birth is 10 percent lower in Pakistan than the average in all developing countries, access of population to safe water is 26 percent lower in Pakistan than in developing countries as a group, and that to sanitation less than one-half. In general, the human development index of the United Nations ranks Pakistan at 132 in a list of 173 countries.

In the context of the poverty prevalent in Pakistan, there is a need to critically re-examine and develop policies on a priority basis with a view to improving the standard of living and quality of life for people at the lower end of the income spectrum. The literature on poverty alleviation gives comprehensive advice on improving access of the poor to social services, strengthening of the targeted programmer improving educational and employment opportunities for the poor and minority groups, intensifying the social action programme and safety nets, expanding the role of the NGOs, utilising more effectively zakah and ushr funds, and, in general, moving towards an Islamic welfare state. I do not wish to cover all of those policy prescriptions but rather confine my remarks to the relationship of poverty with three macroeconomic issues: the quality and pattern of economic growth; inflation in the country; and the pattern of distribution of government revenues and expenditure.


Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission. 

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