Monday, November 21, 2011

Money Matters, The News: Population, Poverty and Pakistan

Money Matters

Population, poverty and Pakistan

Beyond the squabbling political elite and a noisy television media, there are much more serious issues having widespread consequences that should be at the forefront of Pakistan’s governance. Regrettably, they are not. Subjects like population and poverty–both fairly unmanaged in Pakistan– are the real issues though they stand a tad away from politics and the daily dose of comic relief courtesy the leading political-actors and the many television channels. 

Pakistan’s predicaments with militancy, fragility of economy and natural disasters such as floods of 2010 and 2011 are often discussed and also make headlines even outside the country. But the reality beyond these realities is that there is an even greater threat that gets very little air-time and that this is the sheer numbers of people in Pakistan.
According to official figures the projected population for 2015 is 191 million, up from the current figure of approx 170 million, making Pakistan the sixth most populous nation on earth. By 2050, the population of Pakistan is expected to climb to fourth place in the world, only after China, India and the United States. More people means that the country will require more resources, more food and water, more energy and more jobs. More attention and earnestness from the would-be concerned-for-poor-people political leaders of the country would be required as well.
This is some seriously bad news for a country with its uneventful and unending past and present struggles to provide its people with adequate food, healthcare or education. Malnutrition rates are high and ominously climbing which are often linked to 50 percent of infant and child deaths; there is one doctor – of unknown credentials – for every 1,183 people.
Pakistan’s literacy rate stands at 57 percent which, despite official exaggerations, is amongst the lowest in the world. In the space of allocated budget as a percent of the GDP for education, Pakistan is ranked at 142 on 163 country index; countries like Maldives, Botswana and Djibouti are ranked in top 10.
While the politicos in Pakistan – who allegedly have sleepless nights thinking about ‘gharib awam’ (poor people) – may continue with their unending disagreements on electoral politics, alliances and daily TV display of contempt for each other, analyst believe that Pakistan might be running out of time.
Instability around the borders, unmanageable law and order situation in the leading economic hubs of Pakistan have and will continue to impact the economic activities in the country, presenting a very instable and grim outlook about the place and people to the outside world. Pakistan is becoming an address ‘to stay away from’ rather than ‘do business with’. In the absence of sane and sensible governance which is more practical and less rhetorical, economic failures and dearth of trust in government policies will continue to drain essential domestic and foreign investments in vital sectors. Experts believe that there is increasing evidence that investment in education, health and women’s empowerment coupled with slower population growth can contribute hugely towards poverty reduction. Do Pakistan’s leaders believe the same? Apparently not!
World Population Day - July 11th
On July 11– the World Population Day – the Prime Minister said in a message that it was very important to plan and balance population growth with the country’s resources, equitably and prudently. Interestingly, this is pretty much the same statement which is shared and released by the top seat of governance, year after year. It doesn’t matter if a democratically elected person occupies the seat or an appointee of a dictatorial regime is the incumbent, the lip service remains unchanged. What is said ‘officially’ each year might be enhanced in terms of content by the speech writers in Islamabad, what is done about this challenge is pretty well known and that is NOTHING.
Missing economic activity and the momentum coupled with increasing population continue to strain the resources as well as negatively impact the job market in Pakistan. Experts at leading international economic development institutions believe that even with the best managers at the helm, equipped with all the right resources would require years if not decades to set the path right. Pakistan’s institutions continue to plummet on the indexes of performance and transparency and the able managers continue to be disregarded and sidelined to make way for necessary political appointees of unknown credentials.
Experts believe that poverty, food prices and hunger are inextricably linked: ‘poverty causes hunger and while not every poor person is hungry, almost all hungry people are poor.’ Millions in Pakistan languish with daily hunger and malnourishment because they simply cannot afford to buy sufficiently nutritious food or be able to have adequate resources to grow enough food on their own. What is the state of Pakistan planning for the rapidly increasing number of poor and hungry people in the country is a question which is generally answered with very vague answers.
Leaders can continue to discuss the subject of poverty within the corridors of power, at plush hotels and in grand conferences across the world. After all it is the same issue, urgency of which prompted the leaders to recognise it as Millennium Development Goal No. 1. That was over 11 years ago in 2000. So much for leadership!
The writer is a Karachi-based communication consultant.

Irfan Aamir can be reached at:

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