PSLM and the rural–urban divide

November 29, 2020

A political debate must be generated in the parliament and provincial assemblies around the findings of PSLM

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) has released a report based on the Pakistan Standards of Living Measurement Survey (PSLM) 2018-2019. All four provinces were included in this exercise. Being a regular exercise, the PSLM survey has enormous importance.

The sample survey design covers many groups of indicators, such as housing, water and sanitation. Findings in this segment of survey provide a clear picture of how ordinary people are faring in their lives in the urban and rural locations in the country.

It also reveals whether or not the developmental initiatives, mega projects and other ventures have brought about any change in the lives of the people. It may be remembered that there are many questions that survey has not addressed. Issues like the scale of poverty, lack of housing and livelihoods are not fully covered in this exercise.

The survey found that 95 percent of the sample households now benefit from improved sources of water supply. 18 percent have access to tap water (31 percent in urban and 11 percent in rural), 24 percent have access to a hand pump (6 percent in urban and 34 percent in rural), 35 percent have access to a motor-driven pump (30 percent in urban and 38 percent in rural), 3 percent have access to a dug well (1 percent urban and 4 percent rural), bottled water (6 percent urban ), 4 percent tanker (7 percent urban and 2 percent rural) and 9 percent filtration (18 percent urban and 4 percent rural).

Eighty four percent of the surveyed households own their abodes; 72 percent in urban and 91 percent in rural areas. 91 percent households have electricity as the main source of lighting; 98 percent in urban and 87 percent in rural areas. 47 percent households use gas as the main fuel for cooking; 86 percent in urban and 24 percent in rural areas. Only 35 percent of households have access to a clean fuel for cooking, lighting and heating; 74 percent in urban and 12 percent in rural areas.

Eighty percent of the surveyed households have access to improved toilet facilities. 26 percent have access to flush toilet connected to a sewerage system, 24 percent have flush toilet connected to a septic tank. 50 percent households have a separate area for hand washing while 11 percent lack access to hand washing and a cleaning agent. 50 percent of urban population has access to some type of underground sewerage system while 8 percent have no sewerage system at all.

In rural settings, 5 percent have access to an underground sewerage system while 52 percent have no sewerage system at all. 49 percent of the urban population has access to some type of garbage lifting service while in rural areas, only 2 percent have access to some kind of waste management service. These findings very clearly indicate that rural locations in this country are grossly under-developed. Many issues need to be studied to comprehend the situation.

The rural-urban divide has been analysed from several standpoints. Many development experts have contributed useful insights. “It is evident that industrialisation policies in Pakistan favoured the urban elite while agricultural policies supported the rural elite. The bulk of population did not benefit from those and many of them suffered reduction in their real incomes, especially in rural areas”. The incisive analysis by economist Mehmet Ozay establishes the disparity that has persisted between urban and rural segments of the society.

Political aggravations of this disparity through misinformation, instigation and exploitation have further impacted the urban-rural relationships by distracting the stakeholders. A clear contrast between city-based and village-based mandate puts the array of developmental priorities into a conflicting disorder.

The result is a mix of overtly dense mega cities, decaying intermediate cities and a vast rural hinterland, showing a weak social and economic interdependence. While both the industrial and agricultural policies favoured the already privileged, it was definitely the rural segment that suffered the most. As the sufferings of rural people mount, their negative spillover effects fall upon the urban areas, especially mega cities. An unprecedented rural-urban migration is a case in point.

The abrupt collapse of the traditional village economy that was structured around commodity-based transactions is a major reason for this gulf. As the economic relationship started revolving around cash and hard currency, it caused severe discrepancies for the masses in rural area who were unable to generate instant cash. Thus, the quality of life declined drastically due to the breaking of the interdependence under the historically-conserved community order.

The financial allocations in the federal PSDP and provincial Annual Development Programmes must be re-visited to examine how the core short comings identified in PSLM report can be effectively addressed.

Many articles of no cash value acquired substantial value under this new order and can no longer be obtained without cash payments. Access to community assets of the village such as common wood lands, earth quarries or water reservories became increasingly difficult. Subsistence became impossible for the 10-goat shepherd due to proportional reduction of his produce. The 1,000-goat farmer succeeded meanwhile in multiplying his assets exponentially. Towns and large cities were always flooded with surplus capital and thus did not experience a similar transformation.

Contemporary agrarian policies and practices do not equip the small farmers with the tools required to become surplus producers. The excess production is appropriated and invested by the feudal lords. Traditionally, the feudal lords have been fond of luxury goods which they import freely. Else, they invest in real estate in large cities. None of these moves generates a ‘tickle down effect’ which is essential for an even spread of economic prosperity among the masses.

In such a set up, the wealth of villages flies away to cities with only a marginal rebound. Contrarily, the urban production sector invests and re-invests within the same physical environment. This allows even the urban poor to smell its fragrance. Also, by its very nature, manufacturing and trading operations rest upon a huge vendor setup which indirectly dissipates the fruits of prosperity in the urban areas.

The lack of rural industrialisation deprives rural masses of the benefit. Freedom to organise themselves is not guaranteed in the rural areas. Although the revival of political process has entrusted some power to the commoners in the form of their franchise right, the stage of forming pressure groups to demand basic rights is far away. The land lord, the bureaucracy and the law enforcing agencies have kept the rural society fragmented. However, despite the worsening political situation in the cities, urban masses stand better organised around the pivots of their collective demands.

The urban sector also contributes a large share to the national exchequer. This is primarily derived from taxes imposed on various categories of enterprises. Capital accumulation and commercial activities are absolutely concentrated in large urban regions. For example, Karachi alone contributes 15 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and about 25 percent of the federal revenue. Meanwhile, per capita revenue generation in large cities is extremely disproportionate to per capita expenditure. This has resulted in urban opinion being critical of endless subsidies/monetary benefits to the rural sector.

The governments have, however, refused to relax their grip on the rural areas. While under-pricing the agricultural produce, a major chunk of the returns is taken away. Thus, under the guise of development, distributive injustice between cities and villages continues. A prerequisite for balanced regional growth is proportional urbanisation. Unfortunately, there is no balance.

Given its more than 500 urban centres, 22 per cent of the urban population resides in Karachi. Over 54 percent of the urban population lives in 10 large cities. Consequently, productive activities also converge there. But there are also negative repercussions such as an excessive load on the infrastructure, an unmanageable number of squatters, urban crime, ethnic friction and environmental degradation.

A political debate must be generated around the findings of the PSLM survey in the parliament and provincial assemblies. Law makers should carefully review these findings. The financial allocations in the federal Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) and the provincial Annual Development Programmes (ADPs) must be re-visited to examine how the core shortcomings identified in the PSLM report can be addressed effectively. Perhaps a new beginning can be made.

The writer is Professor and Dean, Faculty of Architecture and Management Sciences, NED University, Karach

PSLM and the rural–urban divide