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Published Date: Oct 15, 2012


ALTHOUGH poverty alleviation remains an important national agenda, the rise in poverty in rural areas continues to receive less attention from government agencies and pro-poor bodies in the private sector.

Rural poverty is essentially correlated with lack of asset. The skewed land ownership is one of the major causes of poverty.

About 67 per cent households own no land in the country.

Only broad-based land reforms that include land redistribution and fair and enforceable tenancy contracts together with rural public works programmes and easy access to credit can lead to reduction, if not elimination, of rural poverty.

Two latest studies on the subject make significant observations and provide important information.

One of them launched last month by Sustainable Development Policy Institute titled ‘Clustered deprivation: District profile of poverty in Pakistan’ says that one-third

of Pakistan’s population or 58.7 million people live below the poverty line.

Some 21 per cent of the households fall in the category of extremely poor. But in the rural areas one-third of the households can be described as extremely poor as compared to only eight per cent urban households. This disparity, one may note, is much higher than generally reflected in the traditional estimates of poverty.

Another study conducted by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) and launched early this month puts the figure of those living below poverty line in rural areas at over 40 million.

The institute has based its analysis on the Pakistan Panel Household Survey (PPHS) which involves reviews by the same panel of households over a period of time.

The report says that the poverty debate overlooks the dynamics of poverty as it focuses only on its levels and trends.

The PPHS surveys conducted in 2001, 2004 and 2010 show that poverty reduction has not been sustainable and there were wide fluctuations. It is so because a large segment of the rural population lives on the edge of the poverty line and shocks such as floods, inflation or droughts pushes it into poverty.

This aspect has been overlooked in the cross-sectional datasets around which the poverty debate mainly revolves.

Chronic poverty is almost non-existent in north/central Punjab, being at only one per cent. The movement into and out of poverty is also small in this region as three-quarters of the population is in the ‘never poor’ category.

However, the situation in southern Punjab and Sindh is quite alarming where about two-thirds of the households have been living below the poverty line for one or more periods and only one-third are in the ‘never poor’ category.

The vulnerability to move into poverty is higher among households headed by less educated persons, and having no land and livestock. This suggests the structural nature of rural poverty in Pakistan.

According to PIDE, in the PPHS surveys conducted in 2001, 2004 and in 2010, more than 50 per cent of rural households in Punjab and Sindh qualified as poverty-stricken for at least one period.

Poverty in rural Punjab and Sindh declined sharply from 29.5 per cent in 2001 to 21.8 per cent in 2004 but then jumped to 28 per cent in 2010. The official poverty line, which is predicated on calorie intake, was Rs723.4 per adult per month in 2001 and Rs878.64 in 2004. In 2010, however, this figure jumped up to Rs1,671.89 for 2010.

The moving in and out of poverty is a common phenomenon in rural areas and is more persistent in Sindh and southern Punjab.

The SDPI study reveals that the rural Balochistan has the highest incidence of poverty with three-quarters of its rural population (74 per cent) living below the poverty line. Urban poverty in Balochistan is 29 per cent. The second highest rural-urban disparity is found in Sindh where 46 per cent rural households are poor compared to only 20 per cent urban households.

Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa also shows a similar pattern; 43 per cent rural households are poor compared to 18 per cent urban households. The rural-urban divide in Punjab is the lowest amongst all the provinces as 28 per cent rural households are poor in contrast to only 10 per cent urban households.

The study shows extremely high incidence of poverty in several districts of Balochistan and in some of the northern districts in KPK. District Kohistan in KPK and Musakhel in Balochistan are the two poorest districts of Pakistan.

But the three districts of Hazara Division — Haripur, Abbottabad and Mansehra — are amongst the least poor in KPK.

Similarly, the districts of Swabi, Peshawar and Charsadda are also the least poor. So is the district Chitral.

More than half of the southern part of Punjab faces high incidence of poverty while very low level of poverty is observed in the northern districts of the province.

All the least poor districts of Punjab, which are also the least poor districts of Pakistan, are in northern Punjab.

Jhelum has only three per cent households living under the conditions of poverty. Gujrat, Chakwal, Mandi Bahauddin and Gujranwala also have extremely low levels of poverty — four, five, six and seven per cent respectively.

With 44 per cent households falling below the poverty line, Rajanpur has much higher incidence of poverty than the provincial average. Likewise, the neighbouring Muzaffargarh district has 40 per cent households living under the conditions of poverty.

The adjacent D.G. Khan district has almost two times higher incidence of poverty than the average poverty in Punjab.

The SDPI study says that district Tharparkar has the highest incidence of poverty in Sindh with 47 per cent households falling below the poverty line. Mirpurkhas is the second poorest district with 44 per cent poor households.

Like in other provinces, high incidence of poverty is concentrated in the districts adjacent to Tharparkar and Mirpurkhas, such as Badin, Tando M. Khan and Thatta. All these districts have more than 40 per cent of households falling below the poverty line.

Districts of Karachi and Noshero Feroz appear to be the least poor districts of Sindh province with only 20 per cent households falling below the poverty line.

Similarly, Hyderabad and Sukkur are the next least poor districts in the province with 25 per cent of households falling below the poverty line. Most of the 10 least poor districts are located in the central region of the province.