Poverty in times of a global pandemic | Pakistan Today

Poverty in times of a global pandemic

  • How the Coronavirus affects lives of the disadvantaged and poor among us 

Lock down, quarantine, work from home, rising tally of those affected, and the world in a grip of fear and paranoia. Amidst all this life continues. Like everything, the Coronavirus hasn’t affected mankind equally. The affluent ones with resources are better equipped to weather it than those who have to strive to make ends meet.

‘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’ll 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 world at large.

Now whether you’ve laughed or not, let us put the whole amusing side of one-liner rags to riches advices-cum-warnings aside and put our sober, serious hats on. Modern states, for all intents and purposes, are condemned to be either being welfare states or aim to become one regardless of countless adjectives preceding the word ‘welfare’. The point is that 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, the lot who can’t fend for itself.

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.  

For quite some 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 or 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.
Recently, Pakistan had its first ever official MPI. According to which a palpable decline in poverty has been witnessed all over the country over a decade. In 2015, the national poverty rate stood at 39% while a decade back it was around 55%. This, dearest sirs and ma’ams, is one tremendous feat that we achieved.

Amidst Corona, a pandemic that keeps on getting louder and luckier, our government did its bit to alleviate the suffering of ‘The great unwashed’. With a relief package in the offing, the Benazir Income Support Program is being criticised for offering too paltry an amount, by those roaming around in German cars worth millions and spending 20K per sitting on food for their entourage at a restaurant in Kohsar Market, Islamabad. I request them 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.

Presently, it is estimated that around 12 billion rupees have been 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 shape of Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal and Zakat.  Jointly, both these institutions contribute directly and indirectly around Rs 10 billion to uproot poverty in both rural and urban areas.

It is estimated that one out of four Pakistanis live in multidimensional poverty. Meaning thereby 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 a 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 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 strives towards a zero-poverty goal within the next decade. During my bachelors, while studying Political Science I came across the famous ‘Four Freedoms Speech’ by American President Roosevelt. Among the Four Freedoms, ‘freedom from want’ caught my imagination more than freedom of speech, worship and freedom from fear.

As I solemnly believe that a belly without bread, a body sans clothes, a father without a steady job and a family deprived of a house of their own can neither speak their minds nor worship the Almighty with the respect and reverence He deserves. To live hedonistically amidst the millions of souls who are vying for their next meal, next coin, next shopper of rice, next abuse and next morsel while hoping that one day, someday, things will change, is nothing short of supreme sacrilege in the eyes of Creator.

The need of the hour is to help those who are worst affected by the Coronavirus, they are the disadvantaged, poor folks among us. Let’s pray that their problems are assuaged.

May this pandemic be over soon, for it has taught us what it means to be human, alas all too human.