At one time, not so very long ago, a Pakistani could proudly say, while drawing a comparison with India where millions slept hungry at night, that no-one in his country went to bed with an empty stomach. No more, alas! The spiraling rise in the prices of goods of daily use, on the one hand, and the static incomes on the other have combined to spread hunger, which now affects a large segment of our society. And if one were to add the growing incidence of unemployment caused by inflationary pressures, the picture would become starker. According to some reports, as many as 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. The economic realities are driving even the middle classes into cutting corners.
Prolonged and unpredictable load shedding of gas and electricity is resulting in the closure of factories or at least reduced working hours. The industrialists are left with no choice but to make drastic cuts in their workforce that is making for large-scale unemployment. The end result is that the section of the population that was at least living from hand to mouth has to suffer the pangs of hunger and privation.
The notion that Pakistan is a poor country is highly misleading. The pity is that it resource-rich, but these resources are either being plundered by the powerful and the influential, or not being properly exploited. A democratic order, on the contrary, stipulates that the resources of the country are used for the benefit of the people. Most governments failed to live up to their commitments of serving the people, even though they functioned under the tile of democratic governments.
Corruption seems to have become a by-word for the country. If somehow corruption could be rooted out from society and we have the privilege of having people-friendly rulers, it would surprise many how quickly Pakistan would scale the heights of development.
Poverty does not come in drizzles. It brings with it a downpour of ills; for, after all money matters. The hordes of beggars on the roads and roaming the streets and asking for alms testify that they are short of money to make both ends meet. It is a pathetic sight and a disgrace to the fair name of the country.
The lack of funds also leads to ill health since Pakistan is not a welfare state where health services are free for the poor. It is a sad reality that the country was envisioned by Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to become a welfare state. However, the rulers that followed him had the aim of self-enrichment in mind when they stepped into the seat of power; yes, there were some notable exceptions but they were too few to make a difference.
Another vital input to realizing the dream of a progressing and prosperous land is high-quality education available at all levels and to all and sundry. The conditions of state-run educational institutions, with exceptions few and far between, beggar description. Unfortunately, the poor have no other choice but to send their children to these schools because they cannot afford the exorbitant fees private educational institutions charge. Thus, the quality of product of government schools hardly needs to be described. The graduates of these colleges have nothing to look up to. They are ill equipped to find a job with a decent salary. Not only lack of proper education causes the population to increase at phenomenal rates, adding more to the lot of the poor, uneducated and untrained. And in the present knowledge economy they simply would not fit in.
One can write a full thesis on the consequences of poverty. But for a columnist it would suffice to bring out those issues that hold the key to getting out of the vicious circle of poverty.
The writer is a student of Kinnaird College Lahore.