“No chance at all. With the double digit food inflation and the rising unemployment in the wake of falling investment rate if the poor survive the vagaries of the nature and the ongoing war on terror officially, they are destined to live a painful life devoid of even basic amenities.
At 2.5 per cent annual growth rate, the prospects of increase in economic and job opportunities for the poor are slim. To me, the situation is going to get worse before it improves under public pressure”, said an expert.
The United Nations releases a MDG global progress report every year before September General Assembly session. The current report was launched by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in July 2011. In the press conference, he informed that major success has been achieved globally over the past 11 years since 2000 to reduce poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease.
“Already the MDGs have helped lift millions of people out of poverty, saved countless children’s lives and ensured that they attend school”, Ban said.
“They have reduced maternal deaths, expanded opportunities for women, increased access to clean water and freed many people from deadly and debilitating diseases. At the same time, the report shows that we still have a long way to go in empowering women and girls, promoting sustainable development and protecting the most vulnerable from the devastating effects of multiple crises, be they conflicts, natural disasters or volatility in prices of food and energy”, he said according to press material on the UN website.
Unfortunately the poor in Pakistan have been facing all the three adversities at the same time. A massive earthquake in 2005 followed by massive floods in later years, continuing war on terror since 20011, and the volatility in food and energy prices further battered the teetering economy. The poor governance and apathy of political leadership towards poverty issue applied a bitter icing on the sour cake. .
The annual progress report of Pakistan’s on progress of MDGs for the current year, however, has once again been delayed.
Four annual reports (2004, 2005, 2006 and 2010) have come out over the past 11 years. The first three reports, prepared by Dr Sajjad Akhtar, former director of Center for Research on Poverty and Income Distribution, were better in quality than the one produced last year by the Center for Poverty Reduction and Social Policy (CPRSP). Dr Akhtar was removed despite his credentials by the elected government after assuming power.
Dr Ghulam Asghar Abbas, National Project Director at CPRSP, vested with the responsibility of annual progress report publication maintained that Pakistan is fully committed to MDGs and despite multiple challenges it is trying to tread the promised path of inclusive development under an elected government.
Some other members of his team told Dawn in confidence that the relevant poverty data has not been updated. “It is frustrating to put in effort on something so futile”, one officer said.
“As 2015 draws closer Pakistan drifts further away from the goals. I wonder what progress will be projected in the report”, remarked a senior economist.
“The goals do not look achievable. Besides, poverty reduction does not seem to be on the agenda of the country’s economic team. At least the guiding policy paper of the Planning Commission of Pakistan, ‘The framework for economic growth’, does not contain any mention of the MDGs or a strategy to deal with poverty. The message seems to be that the efforts need to be focused on reviving growth which will take care of other issues”, Dr Rashid Amjad, Vice Chancellor Pakistan Institute of Development Economics commented over telephone from Islamabad.
Dr Amjad, however, says the Benazir Income support programme and the resource transfer to rural economy owing to high commodity prices might have somewhat improved the lot of the vulnerable in the country over the past two years.
Dr Nadeem ul Haq, frustrated with media fixation with populist economic ideas, accepted that the MDGs were elusive. “It will take nothing less than a societal change to get the ball rolling. I see little change materialising as long as the economic activity in the country gravitates around Q Block in Islamabad”, Dr Haq said pointing towards more enlarged than required role of the government in business affairs.
The discussion that followed clarified his position. He believes that the issue of distributive justice is irrelevant when wealth generation is not taking place in a nation. On the annual report Dr Nadeem said that it will be published as mandated by the UN before the turn of the year. “But what does it matter”.
He said that the growth framework that he authored does not mention MDGs or deal with the issue of poverty directly. It, however, elaborates on the strategy that can deliver growth in the country. “I do not believe there is any short cut to prosperity”.
Pakistan signed the declaration of the MDGs in September 2000 along with other 187 United Nation members. The document signifies a unified vision of development of the world community expressed in eight time-bound benchmarked goals.
The over-arching target of the eight millennium goals was to reduce poverty by half at the end of the targeted period of 15 years. It took Pakistan more than anticipated time to translate the generalised development goals.
The Planning Commission did include a chapter in the Medium-term Development Framework 2005-10 on the six point strategy to hit the targets of MDGs. It advocated promotion of sectors with greater potential of employment generation; target policy intervention of social security networks; improvement of access to basic needs (education, health care, drinking water, access to justice); and greater participation in economic policy formulation; greater monitoring of development projects.
The critics blame lack of government commitment more than economic conditions for the slow progress towards MDGs. “This is a country endowed with fertile land and abundant young manpower. The Pakistan elite club matches the elitist elite of the world in their ostentatious lifestyle”.
“There is no estimate available quantifying the rising value of assets owned by this club collectively. The opportunity cost of idle capital and manpower in a resource-scarce and investment-starved country with burgeoning lot of the poor is understood to be unsustainably high”, an expert concluded.