- Abiding by international commitments
By: Sumeera Asghar Roy & Alexander Ayertey Odonkor
As a member of the United Nations, Pakistan has agreed to achieve set objectives within specified time frames. With a population of about 216 million, Pakistan is the world’s fifth most populous country according to the World Bank. A constantly growing population and a high level of poverty has been a major contributing factor to the accelerating levels of hunger and malnutrition. So far, attempts to control Pakistan’s population growth rate, or even alleviate poverty, has been a wild goose chase. According to the United Nations, Pakistan’s population growth rate of 2.4% is the highest in South Asia. With about 40% of Pakistan’s entire population living below the poverty line, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected that real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will decline by 3% in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting services, manufacturing and even agriculture, which contributes 19% of GDP and employs almost 42.3% of the workforce. This new development can increase the poverty rate, which has dropped by 40% in the last two decades.
To adequately address the high level of poverty and the growing population size, it is imperative for relevant stakeholders to implement appropriate measures by drawing lessons from other countries on the continent. For example, China has been successful in lifting more than 850 million people from poverty after the country’s economic reforms in 1978, by controlling population growth. The leadership of Pakistan also tried to control the country’s population by implementing different programs at different times, but insurmountable social norms and religious factors became a drawback. Programs such as the Family Planning Association of Pakistan that was initiated between 1955 and 1960, continuous motivation system and the inundation program that was introduced by Bhutto was destined to fail – the use of contraceptives and sterilization has been rejected by a large percentage of the country’s population.
To improve the quality of life and also eliminate hunger in Pakistan, the international non-governmental organization, Action against Hunger began operation in 2005, partnering local organizations. By 2018, the program has had a positive impact on 334,558 people in Pakistan – making nutrition and health programs accessible to 190,724 people, providing water to 142,735 people with 1,129 people benefiting from food security and livelihood programs. Other programs such as the Pakistan Country Strategic Plan (2018-2022) – a five-year strategic plan that focuses on achieving Sustainable Development Goals and other priorities of the Government by 2025 via the support of the World Food Programme and other development partners has been implemented in Pakistan to improve the standard of living of the masses. The main objective of the program is to improve economic growth, resilience, food security, nutrition, education, productive livelihoods, and social protection in Pakistan.
A condition largely attributed to nationwide corruption, lack of transparency and nepotism. In the case of the BISP, the government has exposed corrupt activities to the general public, revealing corrupt acts involving 2,543 government employees and names of some bureaucrats. The organization’s database had not been updated for a decade, clearly depicting inappropriate monitoring and evaluation practices for the program. What purpose will these aforementioned programs serve if they are ineffective in mitigating poverty, hunger and malnutrition?
Additionally, the Government of Pakistan has implemented the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). The long-term objective of this program is to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on eradicating extreme poverty and empowering women. The program is currently the most extensive social safety net program in the country, providing financial assistance to widows or divorced women. With more than 5.4 million active beneficiaries, these eligible individuals receive unconditional cash payments of PKR 4,834 (US$36) quarterly.
Again, contemporary research has shown that in developing countries such as Pakistan, growth in the agriculture sector is more effective in reducing poverty than other sectors of the economy. This makes the inclusion of agriculture in the second phase of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a step in the right direction. China has acceded to provide US$ 100 million for the agriculture sector under the social development program this year. Pakistan has the option to utilize this amount in an effort to upgrade its agricultural infrastructure by introducing modern tools and machinery to improve agricultural productivity. Part of the funds can also be invested in the supply chain, to improve the quality of storage facilities, transportation networks and other required infrastructure. Data from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) indicates that postharvest losses in fruits and vegetables as a result of mishandling of perishable products, inadequate storage facilities, poor transportation networks and poorly developed market infrastructure accounts for 30% to 40% of total production. In 2016, the annual monetary value of postharvest losses for fruits and vegetables in Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhunkhwa was between US$700 million and US$934 million – a reduction of 75% in postharvest losses when expressed in export premium prices is equivalent to an annual savings of US$1.13 billion.
In spite of the many programs that have been implemented to alleviate poverty, eliminate hunger and malnutrition, the percentage of undernourished people is increasing as time goes by. A condition largely attributed to nationwide corruption, lack of transparency and nepotism. In the case of the BISP, the government has exposed corrupt activities to the general public, revealing corrupt acts involving 2,543 government employees and names of some bureaucrats. The organization’s database had not been updated for a decade, clearly depicting inappropriate monitoring and evaluation practices for the program. What purpose will these aforementioned programs serve if they are ineffective in mitigating poverty, hunger and malnutrition? If they are not achieving the desired goals, then there is the need to explore the root cause and uproot the deadly factors, i.e., corruption, and defective M&E measures.
An assessment of PTI’s agenda does not show an impressive outlook of population control as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, is repeating the unsuccessful efforts of previous leaders. There has been no sign of tabdeeli, which could have brought things on track. High levels of hunger have been prevalent in Sindh and Balochistan. One can easily predict widespread hunger in Balochistan every year, mainly because of over dependence on rain-fed agriculture – poor rainfall patterns have reduced agriculture productivity in the area.
In recent years, Pakistan has been a food surplus country yet a large section of the population is facing food insecurity and malnutrition. To ensure that food insecurity and malnutrition is brought to an end, relevant stakeholders and local authorities should implement strategies to control population growth, offer soft loans and insurance packages to farmers whose crops have been engulfed by crop-eating insects. This will encourage many poor households to engage in agricultural activities.
Summer Asghar Roy author is a doctoral candidate at China Agricultural University, Beijing.
Alexander Ayertey Odonkor is a chartered financial analyst and a chartered economist with a stellar expertise in the financial services industry in developing economies.