Playing with unrealistic poverty statistics
We are a ‘blessed’ country for many unfortunate reasons. The foremost is that we don’t have a reliable data collection system. All we get is the forged statistics and camouflaged reports prepared by the ‘impartial’ experts — the ones heavily paid by the beneficiary organisations and government departments. The same is the case with the internal audits by the large organisations and projects. So, all the cosmetic reports hide the actual face of the situation and the state of affairs that run our society in reality.
Huge investments have been made in Pakistan over the decades through social and infrastructure development projects, and poverty alleviation programmes. But unfortunately we cannot provide desired solace to our people, and the poor gets nothing out of whatever intervention or initiative is launched for the social and economic benefits of the poor. Nevertheless, the ‘professionals’ engaged with such initiatives and the people around them were turned to be the most benefited persons. Same is the case with the poverty reduction strategies.
The cosmetic reports show decline in poverty but actually the number of people living below the poverty line are increasing with the uncontrollable population growth, faulty practices, and malfunctioning of the system. Government functionaries manage to hide the menace of poverty through various techniques. The most practiced technique is using the wrong formula and statistics to make calculations.
In the middle of the last year, Pakistan’s first-ever official report on multidimensional poverty detailed the country’s official Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) based on the statistics that were earlier published in the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2015-2016 that four out of 10 Pakistanis were living in acute poverty with the population of Balochistan faring the worst among the provinces.
The MPI report was unveiled by Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal himself that showed a sharp decline with national poverty rates falling from 55 per cent to 39 per cent from 2004 to 2015-16. The report detailed, “Poverty in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa stands at 49 per cent, Gilgit-Baltistan and Sindh at 43 per cent, Punjab at 31 per cent and Azad Jammu and Kashmir at 25 per cent.”
Towards the end of the last year, the Federal Ministry of Planning and Development submitted a document in the National Assembly stating that about 29.5 per cent of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line. The ministry claimed that latest estimates were based on the Cost Basic Needs (CBN) 2013-14, using the Household Integrated Economic Survey data.
It is a long story as to how the influential and professionals have teamed up to ‘uproot poverty’ (perhaps their own) on the living corpses of the socially and economically dead poor
Comparison of the two reports makes us believe in the ‘revolutionary’ efforts our government and its development partners are putting in to uplift the social and economic status of the people living below the poverty line. Almost 10 per cent decline in the total population living below the poverty line in just about six months is no joke. Perhaps, we need to put this ‘revolutionary’ formula under immense security to protect it from stealing by those ‘arch rival’ neighbouring countries fighting to combat the poverty spread.
However, Sustainable Development Policy Institute Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri refuted the report saying the document had defined those earning more than $1 per day as being above the poverty line. Whereas according to international standards, those who earn between $1.75 and $2 are considered to be living above the poverty line.
So, if we follow international standards, then a person earning over Rs 5000 a month will be living above the poverty line. In that case, the estimates of the people living below the poverty line would double.
A report by the SUN Civil Society Alliance Pakistan chapter, a forum created by the United Nations, states that 69 per cent of the country’s population is food insecure. It says, “bread makes for the larger portion of most people’s diet. They do not eat meats, fruits and dairy products. In other words, they do not get a balanced diet and therefore, they cannot be called healthy. People in Pakistan are also eating wheat which is infected with bacteria, which has a negative effect on their health.”
“Almost half the women and children in the country suffer from various deficiencies related to the lack of vitamins and minerals in their diet and 45 per cent of deaths in children under five years of age are attributed to the lack of nutrition.”
Actualities reveal horrific situation of poverty in Pakistan while the poverty alleviation programmes keep on claiming high achievements. Perhaps we need to look deeply into the factors behind cosmetic achievements of the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) that houses too many untold stories of embezzlements, exploitation, nepotism and favouritism amounting to millions of dollars.
Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), Pakistan Baitul Maal (PBM), and Rural Support Programmes (RSPs) have similar stories. We shall also look into the lucrative reasons behind the mushroom growth of micro-finance banks. Seemingly, it has become easy these days to fool the poor in the name of financial support to better their economic conditions. Unpretentiously, it is a long story as to how the influential and professionals have teamed up to ‘uproot poverty’ (perhaps their own) on the living corpses of the socially and economically dead poor.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.