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April 19, 2021

The depths of disparity

Editorial

 
April 19, 2021

We are all aware of the disparity of wealth that exists in our country. We have seen the mansions which stand just metres away from vast slums, where the majority of the country’s urban poor live. We have seen children with malnourishment written all over their bodies live on the streets while wealthy children go to schools with air-conditioned classrooms and the best teaching available in the country. Now a new report by the UNDP, whose regional chief and secretary-general recently visited the country and also met with Prime Minister Imran Khan, has given out the figures that divide people. The report finds that $17.4 billion out of the country's economy are used by the rich. This amounts to six percent of the total amount available.

In contrast, the poor have very little and essentially no means to build on wealth. The elite groups in the country who make up the rich or the elite accumulate wealth through tax breaks, access to loans, cheap inputs and other means which allow them to add to the wealth on a regular basis further widening the gap which already exists. At the present moment, one percent of the rich own nine percent of the economy. The divide is almost unimaginable. In addition, 11 percent of feudals own 22 percent of arable land, leaving very little for the rest of the population.

The results of this disparity are reflected in the many figures which show how the poor live or indeed die. They indicate the high rates of infant mortality and the stunting of nearly 50 percent of children in the country who simply do not have enough to eat. The high rate of unemployment makes it more difficult for families to survive. And the number that lives near or below the poverty line has continued to grow over the last three decades. In many cases, those living on the brink of the poverty line can quickly sink beneath it if they are hit by a single crisis, such as the loss of a wage-earner in the family or disease which affects one of its members. Healthcare for the poor is of extremely low quality in public sector hospitals and costs huge amounts in private ones.

The UNDP regional chief also pointed out that Pakistan stood at 153rd out of a total of 156 countries on the list of countries which showed gender disparity, according to figures collected by the World Economic Forum. She argued that a major priority for the country, in order to gain some element of growth and offer more opportunity to its people, must be to emphasise education for girls. Even now, millions of girls remain out of school and this contributes to the income gap which is affecting every aspect of life and possibly also contributing to crime and violence within the country. Perhaps, instead of shuffling cabinet members, the state needs to figure out how to redistribute wealth in the country.