- Islands of prosperity and affluence will soon be devoured by inequality and want
Let us start with a cliché, ‘If you’re born poor it is not your mistake, but if you die poor it is your mistake’. God knows what Billionaire Bill Gates had in mind when he uttered these lines to motivate a breed of geeks of our Brave New World who idolized him and dreamt of making billions by virtue of a revolutionary idea that would potentially alter the world for all times to come. Well, like all pearls of wisdom, the essence of this one too withered and it became just another feel-good hackneyed quote thoughtlessly used by countless motivational gurus who are part time entrepreneurs and full-time headaches for their family, friends and the world at large.
Now whether you’ve laughed or not, let us put the whole amusing side of one-liner rags to riches advice-cum-warnings aside and put our sober, serious hats on. Any modern state, for all intents and purposes, is condemned to be either a welfare state or aiming to become one regardless of countless adjectives preceding the word ‘welfare’. The point is, in our day and age no state can be excused from its responsibility towards the poor, unfortunate masses braving life within its boundaries. States are ultimately responsible for its populace that finds it hard to make ends meet; we are talking about the lot who can’t fend for itself.
It is estimated that one out of four Pakistani lives in multidimensional poverty, meaning that poverty is affecting a sizable chunk of our populace. Another worrying aspect is that the Rural-Urban divide is nothing short of a whopping chasm as majority of those who dwell in our villages and work in our agriculture sector are living in abject poverty.
For quite a long time, we have been measuring poverty by gauging, weighing and tabulating people’s income, their earnings, the wealth they’ve accumulated and how much they spend as consumers. In other words the line between marginally prosperous and certainly poor was one of spending capacity lack thereof and not of overall social reality one has to live and die in. Back in 2010, UNDP and Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative developed Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) that replaced Human Poverty Index. The new MPI covers three dimensions, namely Health, Education and Living Standard that further evaluates ten more indicators ranging from nutrition to sanitation and years of schooling. MPI is considered as a tool to identify the poorest among the poor and thus furnishing data that helps policy makers to devise schemes to reduce the debilitating destitution that mars generation after generation.
Pakistan had its first ever official MPI in 2015. According to which a palpable decline in poverty has been witnessed all over the country for over a decade. In 2015, the national poverty rate stood at 39% while a decade back it was around 55%. I wonder how it feels to criticize Benazir Income Support Program for offering too paltry an amount while roaming around in a German car worth millions and spending 20K per sitting on food for their entourage at a restaurant in Kohsar Market, Islamabad. I request such ‘critics’ to ask any one of more than 5 million beneficiaries what this ‘paltry, insufficient’ amount means to their families and how it supplements the precious little they make through incessant toil and tillage in shabby workshops and fields.
It is estimated that billions of rupees are being spent on many projects to assuage poverty by funding micro credit loans and spending in health and education sectors. In Pakistan we have two very strong institutes in the shape of Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal and Zakat. Jointly, both these institutions will contribute directly and indirectly around 10 billion rupees to uproot poverty in both rural and urban areas.
It is estimated that one out of four Pakistani lives in multidimensional poverty, meaning that poverty is affecting a sizable chunk of our populace. Another worrying aspect is that the Rural-Urban divide is nothing short of a whopping chasm as majority of those who dwell in our villages and work in our agriculture sector are living in abject poverty. Government should take notice of this and address the root causes that are hindering farmers and field workers from getting out of cyclic and inter-generational poverty.
While we are at it, the age old perception (and reality sides this time with the perception) in the minds of other provinces that Punjab is way better off than the rest of Pakistan gets confirmation as multidimensional poverty is lowest in Punjab while highest in Balochistan and FATA.
To criticize because one feels better afterwards has never been my forte. I believe that one must point out the things that went awry, applaud the things well done, and do one’s bit to fight the rotten, bad things that blight our kind.
State, government and individuals must all do their bit to annihilate both incidences and intensity with which poverty handicaps one in four of us. It is possible only if every single one of us strive towards a zero poverty goal within next decade. During my bachelors, while studying Political Science I came across the famous ‘Four Freedoms Speech’ by American President Roosevelt. Among those Four Freedoms, freedom from want caught my imagination more than freedom of speech and worship and freedom from fear.
I solemnly believe that a belly without bread, a body sans clothes, a father without a job and a family deprived of a house of their own can neither speak their minds out nor worship the Almighty with respect and reverence He deserves. As to live hedonistically amidst the millions of souls who are vying for their next meal, the next coin, the next shopper of rice, the next morsel while hoping that one day, someday things will change is nothing short of supreme sacrilege in the eyes of the Creator.