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October 24, 2019

The ignored social sector

Opinion

October 24, 2019

Despite all tall claims of politicians about working for the welfare of the people, it seems nothing has changed for regular citizens in decades.

In fact, the situation is the worst in sectors like health and education. The vast majority of the people of Pakistan are still bereft of pure drinking water, decent housing and opportunities to earn their livelihood. The performance of the PPP, the PML-N and the PTI has been abysmal in this crucial sector which is a matter of life and death for over 200 million hapless souls in the land of the pure.

The National Party’s short-lived government in Balochistan tried to deliver to some extent by setting up at least six medical colleges, universities and higher educational institutions. The government, led by Dr Abdul Malik, also secured thousands of areas of land by carrying out a crackdown on land grabbers or retrieving it from different departments and bodies. His government also increased the health and education budgets substantially, besides making efforts for the provision of water but some corruption scandals in the province, which were not related to the former chief minister, overshadowed these positive developments that the federating unit witnessed during his tenure.

The ANP government during 2008-2013 also allocated a substantial amount of money for education besides fighting the Taliban insurgency. However, the performance of the ANP government cannot be described as ideal or even satisfactory, given the serious charges of corruption levelled against the party’s leadership.

Though the MQM was a coalition partner during Musharraf’s time, it did try to deliver in some of the sectors that matter for an ordinary citizen. For instance Karachi witnessed massive improvement in sanitation and water supply. The establishment of parks, hospitals, colleges and schools was also carried out. It must be mentioned that most of these works were accomplished in specific areas. So, in a way there was a discriminatory approach to development which created alienation among the various ethnicities living in the metropolis.

The performance of the N League and the PPP has been pathetic. Despite ruling over the two most populous provinces for more than 10 years, their governments have been unable to stamp out illiteracy, increase life expectancy, tide over epidemics or provide pure drinking water to the mass majority of the people. Of more than 20 million out-of-school children, the majority belongs to Punjab. A mega-city like Lahore does not have any modern water treatment plant. Even today, the working class areas of the city are flooded with rain water within no time.

In many parts of the provincial capital the condition of sanitation and cleanliness remained unsatisfactory even during Shahbaz Sharif’s time. Most of the hapless Pakistanis who opt to undertake the arduous and dangerous journey to enter Western countries illegally are also from this province.

It is true that the N League pumped billions of rupees into development projects but most of these only benefitted a handful of people; for millions the basic amenities of life are still a distant dream. The PPP government may make tall claims about making a difference but in reality it also ignored the social sector of the province it rules.

The deaths of hundreds of children in Tharparkar and other parts of Sindh, the epidemic of hepatitis, the acute water shortages in several parts of the province, the chronic malnutrition in the rural areas and over 4000 non-functional school speak volumes about the much-vaunted performance of the party. The PPP faced a drubbing first in Lyari and now in its bastion Larkana but it is not ready to believe that the problem lies with its own gross incompetence and sheer misgovernance.

Like the N League, the PPP also came up with the idea of mega-projects, investing billions of rupees into capital intensive programmes but the residents of Karachi are still crying for water. Away from the spotlight of the Urdu media, people in many parts of Sindh greatly suffered during the recent rain. The sanitation system is in a shambles in various parts of the province while access to pure drinking water is still a dream. Billions were spent on water filter plants but water-borne diseases are still on the rise. This is partly because of the massive corruption in the installation of these plants that never benefited the people in an effective way.

The PTI was voted into power with many hopes. Imran Khan lambasted Nawaz Sharif’s government for ‘squandering money’ on roads and mega-project, claiming that nations make progress by spending on human beings. He cited heart-wrenching accounts of children suffering from stunted growth besides bemoaning the state of education, health and pure drinking water, vowing to work for ensuring the provision of basic amenities of life. He made a solemn promise to work for the people on the bottom layer of social stratification. The Kaptaan claimed to have a team of experts to steer the country out of the economic crisis. But his policies clearly indicate that all those claims were a mirage. Nothing on the ground has been done to translate those solemn promises into action.

Soon after the PTI came into power, the social sector development budget faced the biggest axe with Punjab almost halving its allocation for the sector. A substantial reduction was also made in such budget at the federal level.

The government that came into power with a promise of five million jobs and millions of houses has yet to create even a single job or provide any shelter to the people. Instead, it ruthlessly razed the meagre abodes of people in cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad besides demolishing roadside hotels, thatched food outlets and thousands of other small businesses while turning a blind eye to the encroachments of its own ministers and influential people.

The government has recently renamed the Saylani food distribution system that the NGO has been running for over 12 years now. In the meanwhile, a federal minister has hinted at closing around 400 government institutions, leaving people wondering if the government can ever create jobs by taking actions like these. The government seems to have put everything on sale. In order to address the myriad of problems that the country is facing, it has come up with the panacea of privatization. The poor who have only government hospitals to go to have been asked to pay for everything at such places – which used to be free under Shahbaz Sharif’s government in Punjab.

The vultures of the corporate world are encouraging the government to sell such facilities as early as possible, leaving everything at the mercy of the market. At government hospitals of Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, doctors and medical staff are made to work for long hours with every ward facing a shortage of two to three doctors and paramedical staff, prompting the employees to go on strike. They have been protesting for several days now but no government official has bothered to allay their fears regarding the possible privatization of health facilities.

With rising inflation, skyrocketing cost of doing business, massive corruption and unprecedented censorship, the current rulers could easily lose the support of the people. The real cause of the unpopularity will not be Nawaz and Zardari but the anti-people policies being imposed at the behest of the international financial institutions. If the Kaptaan really wants to regain this popularity, he will have to pay attention to the much ignored social sectors that he once promised to transform.

Email: [email protected]

(The writer is a freelance journalist.)

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