It’s exasperating to see your dreams being shattered; however, it is heart-wrenching if your unfulfilled desires orbit your basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing. Amongst other factors hampering economic development of Pakistan, poverty bomb contributes in Brobdingnagian proportions, and then, adding salt to an injury, Covid-19 pandemic outbreak has wreaked havoc and disproportionately affected the poverty-stricken citizens. As of 2021, out of total population of Pakistan, 10.6 million people (around 5%) are living in the state of extreme poverty measured against the benchmark, International Poverty Line (IPL) established by The World Bank, indicatively the population earns below U.S. $ 1.90 per day on average! Today combating poverty is the primary concern for the world population, for this reason, “No Poverty”  is the number one Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) set up in 2015 by United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), with the aim to end poverty in all its forms everywhere by the end of 2030. Time will tell how successful it is in achieving its objective.

Only Rs792m allocated to developmental segment out of  total budgeted expenditure of Rs7,137b for FY 20-21

Inadequate use of financial, technical, human and infrastructure resources as well as prejudiced international monetary systems have compromised economic development and have always proved to be an encumbrance to achieving sustainable growth and poverty-free Pakistan. This menace didn’t stop here and has sprouted other problems too for the lower strata of the society; theft, child labour, depression, corruption, bribery, adultery, lawlessness, substandard housing, homelessness, inadequate nutrition and food insecurity are added to the miseries of already crippled nation. Since the start of 21st century until 2015, mercifully poverty headcount ratio had declined from 64.3% to 24.3% owing to mainly increased dependency on non-agricultural income and increased foreign remittances; however this fugacious downtrend saw a reversal with the outbreak of pandemic since the resultant containment measures in tandem with lethargic economic growth led to a halt in this trend.

The very ideological agenda of every party contesting for Islamabad office vows at safeguarding the basic human rights by improving their quality of life. Can we say that Imran-led-government is successful in eradicating poverty in Pakistan? I think, it would be sheer injustice to defend this in its favour, where IMF projected population ratio is expected to jump to 40% in years to come from the existing 24.3% in 2015 sparked by the pandemic and ever-increasing fuel prices, hence raising the anticipated number of people living below poverty line to 85 million. We must not deny the fact that PTI government floated largest ever Ehsaas program in the history of Pakistan in 2019 to uplift the marginalized segment of society which is proving to be a master stroke of PTI. A number of welfare projects are introduced under its umbrella aimed at narrowing the poor-rich inequality, the most prominent being Ehsaas Emergency Cash program even received recognition from World Bank.

Shedding light on the causes hindering poverty eradication in Pakistan reveals acute reasons: of these an obvious reason is huge population influenced by positive eugenics, although global population growth witnessed a downtrend since early 80s, same was witnessed for Pakistan. For year 2020, rate of population growth in Pakistan stood at 1.97% which is still significantly higher than our neighbours; it plummeted to 0.98% & 0.31% for India & China respectively, predominantly due to their effective population control policies. Similarly, death rate has also declined from 21 in 1960 to 7 in 2019 (per 1000 people) but on the flip side, this worsened the plight of impoverished class. Another potential determinant fuelling poverty is increased unemployment; during the last decade unemployment has jumped from 0.65% in 2010 to 4.65% in 2020, a seven-fold rise! Rising unemployment along with high inflation has whittled down consumer household savings and purchasing power, contributing dearly to the miseries of beleaguered nation. Moreover, poor governance paced the virtual collapse of the economy, fainted efforts were put to address the structural issues; imbalanced and invidious taxation regime, increased dependence on foreign debts and low private investments engendered burgeoning poor-rich inequality.

The scourge of being a capitalist economy is that poor-rich gap continuously widens with the poor always at the loser’s end. Eradicating poverty requires a holistic approach necessitating consistent efforts and commitment on part of government and non-government organizations. To my consciousness, I believe unfair and unjust allocation of resources among competing needs and rampant corruption are the commanding reasons of the present state of poverty. Lofty promises are made before every election but seldom fulfilled, as manifested from the fact that only Rs. 792 million is allocated to the developmental segment out of total budgeted expenditure of Rs. 7,137 billion for FY 20-21, while the rest is engulfed by the non-developmental segment. It is rightly said that actions speak louder than words, the government must honour its manifesto by breaking the barbaric edifice of capitalism through controlling yawing wealth gap and rising cronyism; the state must ensure free interaction of market forces and administration of justice across the board. In a nutshell, it’s the need of the hour to uplift the marginalized segment of the society, where everyone from every walk of life can stand shoulder to shoulder in nation building.

 –The writer is a professional under apprenticeship in a private organisation in Islamabad & is accessible at nisarahmed.2na@gmail.com