Multidimensional poverty in Pakistan is estimated to be 33 percent, according to one of the recent researches released by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), World Food Program-SDPI’s joint food insecurity assessment of Pakistan revealed that 58.2 percent population was food insecure in 2010.
UNICEF’s National Nutrition Survey of 2011 estimated 68 percent population to be food and nutritionally-insecure in Pakistan. These depressing figures are not for Pakistan only. South Asia, which as a region, is considered as hub of growth is generally suffering from such deprivations. More than 30 percent population of Bangladesh is extremely food insecure. The same is true for Nepal where almost one third population is living below a caloric poverty line of 2200 Kcal/person/day. The situation is not very different in India too, where 76 percent population suffer from inadequate food consumption. More than half of India’s women and 3/4 of children are anemic.
There seems to be two South Asias, shining South Asia and suffering South Asia. One South Asia that has the potential to turn regional economic giant and a possible growth leader for the rest of the world and the other South Asia where at least one third of population is living below extreme poverty.
It is obvious that economic growth in South Asia over the decades has failed to translate into human development. The absence of appropriate social development policies to accompany the economic growth policies has led to geographic and ethnic inequalities. This non inclusive growth has turned it difficult to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). MDGs that I consider as the minimum development goals and are to be achieved by 2015 would be missed by almost all South Asian countries.
The post-2015 world requires a new development paradigm as also recognised in Rio+20. While Track-I efforts to redefine paradigms of developments in South Asia were quite slow so far, the latest initiatives to improve bilateral relations between Pakistan and India would definitely have a positive impetus on SAARC development agenda. On top of it, Track-II and Track III efforts carried out by civil society actors are also progressing well and in many instances complementing Track-I efforts.
One of such initiatives at Track-II level is South Asia Economic Summit, which is organized every year ahead of SAARC Head of the State Summit since 2008. The previous summits were held in Colombo, Delhi, Kathmandu, and Dhaka. This year the summit was organised by SDPI in Islamabad. More than 150 international speakers, around 60 national speakers, parliamentarians, academia, and business community (especially SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry) deliberated upon two major themes, i.e., issues facing South Asia, and how to make growth in South Asia more inclusive.
The government’s support to this summit was evident through participation of Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Defense Minister of Pakistan, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Pakistan, Economic Minister of Afghanistan, Parliamentarians from Sri Lanka, and high profile dignitaries from rest of South Asian countries.
The summit discussed issues of post 2015 development agenda, food security, energy security, climate change, trans-boundary water issues, regional economic integration, trade in goods and services, regional connectivity, migration, and gender empowerment etc.
The crux of Summit’s recommendations was that in order to turn economic growth more inclusive we would have to adopt a completely different approach to growth and development. MDGs are static and do not capture the multi-dimensionalities of poverty and deprivation in South Asia. Hence, a change in paradigm where poverty reduction targets could be measured through measuring change in lives of people rather than measuring mere numbers would have to be adapted. South Asian governments would have to strengthen peace efforts so that hefty defense budget could be diverted to social sector development.
One needs to address the issues facing South Asia through a human development angle. Thus, regional trade should be looked at with a food security lens. After all 40 percent of the world’s hungry live in South Asia. Liberalisation of trade in food commodities currently on sensitive list can allow for free movement of food across the borders and help alleviating malnourishment.
Considering the bleak food insecurity situation in the region a comprehensive food security framework needs to be devised. This framework should be applied unanimously over the region. It should result in augmenting the SAARC food bank and turning SAARC seed bank functional to ensure regional seed exchange, technology sharing and seed information sharing.
1.3 billion people in South Asia are without access to electricity of which 289 million are in India, 96 million and 64 million are in Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively. Instead of aiming for energy trade prospects in the region based on aggregate endowment of energy in each country, South Asia should aim at a framework that allows surplus pockets across borders to trade their surpluses. This could be a good starting point towards greater cooperation in energy in future. Barring few countries, current energy mix for electricity production in South Asia is very unsustainable and climate non-friendly. Each member country needs to pay attention to the currently disadvantageous energy mix in the region and should pursue for renewable energy options.
The lack of a realistic and local understanding of impacts of climate change on agriculture, health and overall productivity turns it difficult to find a path for collective regional action. It is about time that research which provides better understanding of local adaptation options may be replicated at national and regional level across South Asia.
All neighbours in South Asia must realise that their production processes have impacts on climatic conditions in other countries. With recurrent floods and droughts in the region a greater need to devise collective framework for adaptation is a possible way forward if we dream of a climate change resilient South Asia.
“Trans-boundary water issues” between Pakistan and India, between India and Bangladesh, and between Nepal and India are a reality of our region. Sharing of benefits equally from water resources could play vital role in regional cooperation. Water has been becoming a strategic commodity and the best way to manage water is by assuming that no boundary exists within South Asia. There is, thus, an urgent need of appropriate investment in information, technology, infrastructure and knowledge to initiate the joint management of water in order to sustain the livelihood of millions of people.
For South Asia to connect to central Asia and ASEAN countries, the SAARC member countries must address internal constraints in improving transport and logistics. Currently, both sectors remain heavily regulated in all member countries. The competition commissions in member countries can exert pressure in opening up of these sectors for private sector participation.
The same applies in trading of important resources such as energy in which currently all arrangements are at the government level. Unless private sector is involved in the process, trading in such resources may face stoppages in the face of political upheavals.
Apart from trade in goods, South Asia has huge potential of trade in services. Sectors within the services industry in which trade can be increased within the SAARC region easily include education, health, tourism and financial services. Issues such as data on services sectors trade, and facilitation costs need better documentation in order for private sector to make correct assessment of their gains.
South Asia is the driver of global migration. We do not have data on migration in South Asia, and there is need to develop standard data system. Irregular migration has increased because of restrictive immigration policies and very high cost of legal migration. South Asia needs a regional discourse of migration and economies cannot be integrated without the free mobilization of laborers.
In this backdrop, moving towards inclusive and Sustainable South Asia, the summit recommended:
- Setting up of South Asian Commission on Environment
- Establishing a Social Accountability framework for SAARC Organisation and agreements under SAARC Summits
- Convergence of regional trade agreements towards norms agreed in SAFTA
- Increasing of capacity of institutions that can operationalise SAFTA expediently
- SAARC countries should come up with SAARC conventions on migration so that rights of migrants across South Asia can be protected
- Setting up of national commissions that can expediently address in-country constraints to connectivity which includes not only provision of infrastructure but also its management, supervision
These recommendations would remain theoretical models unless and until, the governments of South Asia are really sincere to their people and really want to make a positive difference in their lives through adapting inclusive growth strategies. Here, one should remember that inaction by government cannot only be blamed to lack of political will at the top. It is hard to mobilise political will at the top unless there is a strong demand and pressure at the grassroots level. For this track-II and track-I initiatives have to go hand in hand and this is where initiatives like South Asia Economic Summit can bridge the gap.
The writer is Executive Director, Sustainable Development Policy Institute and may be contacted at email@example.com
This article was originally published at: The News
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.