Balochistan’s dismal socioeconomic indices

No one is interested in the media to discuss what is going on in Balochistan. The Federal Information Secretary, in his twitter message on 10th April, revealed that the national TV channels, on average, “give coverage to Balochistan for 34 seconds in 24 hours, and that too when there is bad news”. He is right. The private channels run after the news, where they get the business. Right now, it is the battle for Punjab to get maximum coverage.
For decades, there has been debate in Balochistan about the status of the province in the federation. Baloch intelligentsia has been divided on the issue of whether to be a part of the federation and launch their struggle within the constitutional parameters or be part of a secessionist movement. The overwhelming view, at least amongst the nationalists, is that a secessionist movement within the existing socio-political structure is not possible.
This article identifies socio-economic factors responsible for Balochistan’s poverty and backwardness. Political bickering apart, serious governance issues due to incompetence and corruption keep Balochistan at the lowest rung of development indices. The following deserve attention:
• Inequality in human development: Balochistan’s Human Development Index (HDI) value improved least between 2006–2007 and 2018–2019. Applying the categorization used by UNDP’s global HDI would place Balochistan’s HDI value at par with Sierra Leone in West Africa, which ranked 181st of 189 countries on the global index in 2019.
• Poverty: Poverty is widespread and deep-rooted in the province. Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) indicates the highest poverty level at 71.2 percent in Balochistan compared to 38.8 percent at National Level in 2015. The rural-urban divide further hampered this MPI in development, inequality, and disparity among districts, as the proportion of people identified as poor in urban areas was significantly lower at 37.7 percent than in rural areas at 84.6 percent.
• Gender inequality: The most common gendered concern for the women of Balochistan, as found in the little available literature and confirmed by experts and government officials, is about the alarmingly low rate of literacy for women (24 percent) and, conversely, the disturbingly high rate of maternal mortality (700/100,000). Both indices contribute to Pakistan’s standing as the second worst country, as listed in the Global Gender Gap Report 2017 (143 out of 144 countries). Male doctors are not allowed to examine women. There is an acute shortage of female doctors who find it difficult to work in remote areas due to housing shortages and cultural constraints, including security for single women in some areas.
• Education: Balochistan has a large number of out-of-school children, high dropout rates, wide gender disparities in education indicators and poor quality of teaching (and learning) in the classroom. Low children’s access to school emerges as the biggest challenge in the province. It faces a unique situation in Pakistan as many settlements (approximately 10,000 out of a total of 22,000) are without schools. The situation has resulted from several factors, including poor communication infrastructure.
• Health: The deficiency of trained doctors and paramedical staff in government hospitals, high fees in private hospitals, lack of transport facilities and low public sector expenditure on health are all reasons that account for the deteriorating health situation in the province.
• Environment and Climate Change: Balochistan is highly prone to climate change risks and is potentially unable to cope with water-related development challenges. The province is highly water scarce with an arid to hyper-arid climate and low precipitation levels. Despite developments in the water sector, other factors, including population growth, urbanization, mining and industrialization, place greater demands on the province’s water resources. Agriculture and livestock are the sources of livelihood for the majority of the population; as such, water shortages in the province threaten the productivity and income generated from these two core sectors.
• Food insecurity, Nutrition: Among children younger than five years old, malnutrition – both stunting and wasting – remains prevalent in Balochistan.
• Economic Growth and income generation: One of the many critical challenges to growth and development is the comparatively small size of the private sector and enterprises, faced with multiple limitations. The private sector growth is impeded due to insufficient financial and banking services, weak human resources and talent pool, and small markets. The size of Balochistan’s banking sector is only 1 percent of the sector’s value added in Pakistan. While its share of deposits is 2.2 percent, its share of advances is only 0.3 percent. There is, therefore, a net transfer of resources from Balochistan to the rest of the country. Private sector development in the province has been frustrated by a lack of access to credit. The absence of physical infrastructure is the other major constraint in Balochistan.
• Water and Sanitation: Water is a primary limiting factor to developing the agricultural sector. Roads in the province account for just 14 percent of the national road network, even though its share of the land area is over three times larger. Balochistan’s share of electricity consumption is only 4 percent, a large part of which (75 percent) is used for agricultural tube wells.
• Natural Resources: Balochistan had a dominant share of natural gas production in Pakistan from the Sui Natural Gas Field. The Hub Industrial Estate in Balochistan, located strategically close to Karachi, witnessed substantial investment. In tandem, the production of fruits and vegetables took off. Today, Balochistan is home to 6 percent of Pakistan’s population, represents the largest provincial share of its land area (44 percent), and accounts for only 4.5 percent of the national GDP. Balochistan has a comparative advantage in economic sub-sectors in which it accounts for a higher share of national output than its overall share in the national economy. These sub-sectors are minor crops, forestry, fishing, mining and quarrying, electricity and gas, and government services, with shares of 23 percent, 8 percent, 11 percent, 21 percent, 6 percent, and 7 percent, respectively.
• Social Protection: Balochistan is lagging in legislating on labour issues and administering labour laws. Provincial analysis reveals that the proportion of child labourers between 10 and 14 years old in Balochistan is 4.33 percent.
There is a need to thoroughly review the above issues to mitigate the grievance of the province by giving people-friendly governance. It is also important to note that the unit costs of development and the maintenance of services are higher in Balochistan because of its low population density and relatively low urban population share (28 percent). The dominance of the capital city, Quetta, is pronounced. Its share of the urban population is 32 percent. There is a clear need to develop a network of secondary cities and towns across the province. Compared to the rest of Pakistan, the sub-sectors which lag in Balochistan are major crops, manufacturing, transport and communications, finance, insurance, and private services.
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) can significantly push Balochistan’s development. The Gwadar port project is near completion, and the first phase of the free industrial zone has been finalized. The early completion of CPEC’s eastern corridor to Gwadar is urgently needed. Special incentives for establishing industrial units and housing in Gwadar can expedite the pace of development. Moreover, Balochistan’s coastal belt development should promote fishing and offshore oil and gas exploration.
Regardless of the political jostling in the province, the issue of governance matters most. Everyone should ask whether Balochistan’s current rulers have the plans or capability to address the above problems.

The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan in Iran and UAE. He is currently working as a Senior Research Fellow in the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).

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