Money Matters

Poverty paradox

Pakistan currently grapples with the daunting challenge of widespread poverty, a problem that persists despite the professed commitment of successive governments to alleviate it.

Poverty paradox

Pakistan currently grapples with the daunting challenge of widespread poverty, a problem that persists despite the professed commitment of successive governments to alleviate it.

The harsh reality stands in stark contrast to these promises, with both the government and society at large seemingly oblivious and indifferent to the alarming situation. This multifaceted issue is exacerbated by economic, social, and political factors, further compounded by policies and actions of various administrations, including those of the PDM and caretaker governments, which have inadvertently led to a drastic increase in poverty. The devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened matters, pushing a significant number of lower-middle-class individuals below the poverty line. Amidst ongoing political instability, there is a growing fear that poverty rates will continue to climb.

The cost-of-living crisis has deepened in recent years due to frequent and substantial increases in the prices of essential commodities such as oil, gas, and electricity, resulting in record inflation. As a consequence, a significant portion of the population now grapples with economic hardships, with the poverty rate skyrocketing from 34.2 percent to 39.4 percent within a year. Alarmingly, approximately 40 percent of the population now lives below the national poverty line of $3.2 per day, with an estimated 12.5 million individuals falling into poverty within just one year.

Furthermore, the unemployment rate has surged to a concerning 8.5 percent, a significant increase from 6.42 percent in 2022 and 6.34 percent in 2021. Projections by international bodies like the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) paint a grim picture of a historic low in the employment-to-population ratio, with millions of Pakistanis remaining unemployed. The lack of stable and well-paying job opportunities exacerbates financial instability for families, further hindering the nation’s overall progress, with the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimated to grow by a mere two percent for the current fiscal year.

Poverty in Pakistan is pervasive, affecting both rural and urban areas alike. A significant portion of the population struggles to meet basic needs such as food, shelter, and healthcare. Income inequality exacerbates the issue, with a considerable wealth gap between the rich and the poor. While rural areas bear the brunt of poverty, urban centers also host pockets of deprivation, creating a complex socio-economic landscape.

The informal sector dominates the economy, leading to underemployment and low-paying, insecure jobs for many individuals. This economic vulnerability perpetuates the cycle of poverty, making it challenging for families to break free. Additionally, there has been a concerning increase in the suicide mortality rate, attributed primarily to poverty and unemployment.

Limited access to quality education and healthcare further deepens the impact of poverty, forcing families to choose between education and basic necessities. Social disparities, including discrimination against marginalized communities, exacerbate the situation, hindering equal access to resources and opportunities. Security challenges in certain regions also impede economic activities, trapping people in poverty.

External economic fluctuations further compound the challenges of poverty alleviation, leaving the national economy vulnerable to global shocks. Despite various poverty alleviation programs, such as the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), their effectiveness is marred by corruption, bureaucratic hurdles, and inadequate implementation. Sustainable efforts and comprehensive policy reforms are necessary to address the root causes of poverty and uplift vulnerable segments of society.

Regrettably, the government’s allocation of a mere Rs 500 million for poverty alleviation under the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) for ongoing schemes underscores the lack of priority given to this critical issue. Addressing poverty in Pakistan demands a multifaceted approach, including economic reforms, social interventions, and targeted welfare programs. Political stability and effective governance are imperative for the successful implementation of poverty reduction measures.

By prioritizing sustainable development goals focusing on education, healthcare, and inclusive economic growth, Pakistan can strive towards building a more prosperous and equitable society. However, achieving this vision requires concerted efforts and a collective commitment from both the government and society. As the nation stands at a crossroads, the prospect of addressing poverty must not remain a distant dream but rather a pressing reality that demands immediate action.

The writer is retired chairman of the State Engineering Corporation