Press Coverage

Food is not insufficient, but inaccessible in Pakistan: EU ambassador BRI is a beacon of hope and relief in times of Corona: Gen (Retd) Asim Bajwa Dr Suleri calls for better linkages between monetary and fiscal policies

ISLAMBAD (December 15, 2020): Ms Androulla Kaminara, European Union ambassador to Pakistan, said that food is not insufficient in Pakistan, but it is inaccessible for the poor and vulnerable classes and communities

She was speaking at the second leg of 4-day 23rd Sustainable Development Conference under the theme of Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security: Challenges for Women organized virtually by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Tuesday.

The EU ambassador also explained as to how COVID-19, poverty, gendered policies, and many other factors are adding to the food insecurity and injustice towards women.

Rashid Mehmood, Additional Secretary for Ministry of National Food Security and Research suggested that Pakistan needs to promote multi-sectoral approach to address food insecurity in the country. While mentioning the government’s response, he said PKR 56billion has been allocated for agriculture. He also stressed the need to work on gendered distribution of COVID vaccine.

Mr Wouter Plomp, the ambassador of Netherlands in Islamabad, stressed the need to keep food markets operational so that the food security can be improved and ensured.

Dr Aamer Irshad from Food and Agriculture Organization, termed the pandemic a global situation and explained that how the economy and production is reducing due to COVID-19. He highlighted that the bad weather, cost of production and imports are causing food inflation. COVID-19 exacerbated the pre-existing gender inequalities in Pakistan including access to resources, markets, technologies, and assets.

Dr Pauline Oosterhoff, Institute of Development Studies, discussed as to how the COVID-19 has increased the invisible burden for women as well as their unpaid responsibility. She said food is really necessary for every kind of development.

Dr Aneela Afzal also highlighted the factors that are causing food insecurity and demanded to opt the conventional ways for ensuring food security.

Speaking at a session on Future of BRI in the Post-COVID World, Lt-Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa said small developing countries cannot afford packages what the developed countries have allocated for their people to handle the pandemic. In these dire circumstances, BRI is a beacon of hope and relief for the developing countries.

“China is very open to making BRI a joint venture of development and prosperity,” he said, adding that CPEC can pull the region’s economy with greater efficiency and speed.

Mr Bajwa said China has decided to adopt the dual circulation economic model, which will give boost to national growth by enhancing domestic consumption bringing two types of opportunities for the world. The enhanced demand and import of China will create multifaceted opportunities for the world economy and will also bring special opportunities for Pakistan through CPEC.

Xie Guoxian, the Chairman of ACEF, Bejing said that China has changed the traditional concept of development. From and unconventional point of view, he said, China emerged as a powerful economic power and is also cooperating positively while recognizing all the difficulties of Pakistan.

Xie Yuhong, Minister Counsellor, Embassy of China in Islamabad, said that COVID-19 implies that all world should work together to overcome the challenges, including climate changes, etc. The goal of the omniverse is same for all countries and all people.

Mudassir Tipu from Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that CPEC has finally successful in entering into its second phase. Both Pakistan and China want to complete CPEC as soon as possible, he said.

Speaking at a session on Government of Tomorrow: Re-imagining the Role of Government after COVID-19, SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri said that communication creates incentives for people through transparency of government policies and effectiveness of bureaucracy. Leadership, transparency, and preparedness are required to implement the policies because in our country, policies are devised but no one is ready to implement those policies. He pointed out the lack of clarity and alignment between the key institutions (ministries of finance, planning, industries, commerce) and departmental linkages. He said without the proper linkages between departments, the prosperity of a nation cannot be achieved. He also stressed the need for a better linkages between monetary and fiscal policies.

Dr Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director, Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh said the current situation emphasized upon the role of government on Green Economy rather than focusing on high growth numbers because growth numbers like GDP is not a scale to measure the people’s welfare. She said that South Asian countries should refrain themselves from giving financial excuses while incorporating the issue of climate change in policymaking, as governments take stimulus packages in the form of fiscal policies, but environment is mostly neglected in these policies. In case of any disaster or resource shortage, governments’ initial targets are to keep people afloat. She said investment should be turned towards poverty alleviation along with green sector and involvement of local or municipal policy makers is needed because they understand the problems of the poor.

Dr Dushni Weerakon, Executive Director, Institute of Policy Studies, Colombo said that COVID-19 has exposed real flaws in our system like limited rights to bureaucrats in implementing policy and lack of integrated disaster management institutions to be prepared for any upcoming disasters. In current pandemic, various steps have been taken and various task forces are created to deal with the situation. They have worked quite well but institutionalization of such forces is required to deal with any such future disaster. The general perception seems to be that there is lack of government integration in South Asian countries.

Speaking at a session on Accelerating SDGs Achievement and Building Back Better from COVID-19 Pandemic in South Asia, Dr Nagesh Kumar, Director, UNESCAP, New Delhi stressed the need for national strategies to focus on building better rather than trying to re-establish the status quo preceding the pandemic. He also emphasized that regional cooperation could play an importnt role to national efforts.

Riaz Fatyana and Ms. Romina Khurshid, Chairman and Member of Parliamentary Taskforce on SDGs respectively, talked about the social, economic, and political challenges Pakistan is faced with and continues to do so due to COVID19. It was also discussed that the problems are universal and as such the efforts to address them should be more holistic. In this capacity, development partners can play a key role in facilitating regional cooperation.

Mr. Nazir Kabiri, (ED, Biruni Institute, Afghanistan), explained that Afghanistan, like some other countries, was a fragile economy even preceding the pandemic and relied heavily on external financing. Since external and private financing is projected to fall further post COVID19, international aid regimes will have to be revisited. This situation, however, does allow a better appreciation of the private sector will have to offer.

Dr. Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director, CPD, Dhaka reiterated that some of the structural challenges of South Asian economies are the same. As such, the quality of growth has not necessarily benefitted everyone equally and the pandemic has widened consumption and wealth inequality.

Nonetheless, despite local and national inequalities, COVID19 has blurred the north-south divide in the sense that the impact of the pandemic has been felt profoundly across the globe. In this context, efforts of South Asian countries in coping with it has been laudable, said Prof. Dr Sachin Chaturvedi, the Director-General, RIS, New Delhi said the local production capacity of necessary protective gear and equipment has seen an unprecedented rise. Going forward, he said, it will be important to decarbonize the recovery and accelerate digital transformation.

Dr. Posh Raj Pandey, Executive Chairman, SAWTEE, Kathmandu,  , pointed out that the mixed progress on SDGs in Nepal is now either erased or will slow down due to reallocation of resources to COVID-19 impact.

Dr. Dushni Weerakoon, Executive Director, IPS, Sri Lanka said the financial & economic fallout of COVID-19 may further impact government programs and priorities as there will now be reducing funding for already cash trapped countries. As such, it will be important to perhaps scale back the ambition tied with SDGs for some countries.

Dr. Abid Suleri, Executive Director, SDPI emphasized that the social sector at large now needs to be brought to the center of governments’ focus as this is the time for fiscal expansion. Pooling resources and production capacity of the region may be a stepping-stone but harnessing each country’s competitive advantage while doing so will be effective and efficient.

Speaking at a session on Getting SDGs Back on Track: Innovative Solutions of Post-Pandemic Recovery, Dr Khaqan Hassan Najeeb, Advisor to Ministry of Finance, stressed the need to address corruption in procurement; we need to update the PPRE rules and ensure performance audits to strengthen our response against the pandemic.

Dr Ather Osama, Advisor to Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, said that due to lack of technological innovation and awareness, public sector schools suffered the most during the pandemic. He added that HEC Pakistan launched two funding programmes during the pandemic for the higher education, which included the Grand Challenge Fund (GCF) and the Local Challenge Fund (LCF). Owing to inability of our system to work in consortia, we have not been able to get innovative proposals from this sector.

SDPI Joint Executive Director Dr Vaqar Ahmed suggested that although the G-20 Debt Relief supported the developing countries during the pandemic, there is a need to improve local resource funding to execute social development program schemes and for that we need to improve public private partnership.

Dr. Zubair Iqbal Ghauri, Pro Rector of National University of Modern Languages, said that though 15% increase in A grade has been observed because of poor evaluation system of digital learning, 12% decrease in grades of female students has also been reported during the pandemic lockdown. He added that academia leadership in higher education is just good in numbers, but lack understanding about developing linkages with other sectors. He stressed the need to focus on SDG 4 and SDG 5 to address gender inequalities and provide quality education.

Ali Salman from PRIME proposed that the think tanks and academia need to collaborate effectively and work through domestic resource mobilization. Think tanks need to focus more on problem solving rather than advocacy.

Syed Muhammad Mustafa, Advisor GIZ GmbH, Pakistan, said that the social assistance programmes launched by the government of Pakistan during COVID-19 have gained international recognition. He said that the role of digital technology such as biometric CNIC system has helped to improve the social assistance schemes in the country.

At another session titled: An Overwhelming Role of ICTs during COVID-19 Era and Beyond

Former Finance Minister Sartaz Aziz said that the ICT plays an important role in post-COVID plan to overcome bigger challenges. A national plan of digital transformation should be formulated with public-private partnership. He said four elements are important, which include:  upgradation of IT infrastructure by bridging the digital divides in areas of urban/rural and gender-based, Reduction in taxes on IT devices, special attention to the sectors like air travel, tourism, urban transport cultural activities, and IT education from massive cash programme for computer literacy.

Dr Shaheen Sardar Ali, Rector of Higher Educational Academy, said complete transition to online education is a journey into the unknown for students, teachers, universities and the society at large. This requires policy role and capacity building of “doing by learning ” and equal opportunities for all students and teachers across the country Fortunately, the Higher Education Commission is live to these problems and is trying to keep pace with the challenges of virtual education. For this, research and academic forced new skills and competences in familiarity in using the learning system.

Mr. Parvez Iftikhar, Member of Prime Minister’s Task Force on ICTs, said that COVID-19 has shown that a high speed and large capacity Internet is a must to keep moving the wheels of economy, health, education and other sectors of life. Only the optic fiber infrastructure can meet the demand, which unfortunately, Pakistan is lacking at the moment. He strongly recommended that the state owns infrastructure with private sector ownerships. 

Dr. Faisal Shaheen, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Administration, University of Ryerson, Canada said that Trust and Coordination are key things in lockdowns who have forced employees across all sectors to work from home to sustain operations and service deliveries resulting in overloading ICT networks and creating information security problems. Stressing the need for implementing customize solutions out of box technologies enterprises through the required software, he said emergency data and preparedness would enable large organizations to keep pace with the demands of compliance, efficiency, and service delivery.

Dr Adeela Rehman, Assistant Professor, Fatima Jinnah University, Rawalpindi suggested blended learning which is a fusion of face to face and online experience. And interface of human technology, motivation and structures and control. Training and Development focus on changing or improving the knowledge skills attitudes of individuals.

Brig. (retd) Mohammad Yasin said in these difficult times, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) played a key role in keeping the people informed about the dangers and to adopt measures to fight the coronavirus. Online readiness of teachers should be ensured homogenous, high level committee should be constitutional for reviewing. Universities have operational and accessible live management system and students must have complete data information with pedagogy approach. Guidance and faculty must have training. E-learning Equitable and universal access to ensure. Faculty must have training and curriculum. Adoption of branded technology must be facilitated. Highly speed broadband internet increase in Pakistan. Globally recognized it is optic fiber high speed, best quality and reliable medium for data transfer. Government should promote Public Private Partnerships further to motivate the investors both infrastructure and service providers.

At a session on Perspective on community resilience to violent extremism: challenges in the Time of COVID-19, Dr Sehrish Qayyum from Lahore presented the challenges to community resilience to violent extremism during the pandemic. She elaborated the genetic lineages versus disturbance in social environment, psychosocial reasons demarcating positive and negative results.

Dr Syed Hussain Shaheed Soherwordi from Peshawar University said that when the world follows SOPs to avert corona impact, the US, instead of taking it serious, is saying that it's a Chinese virus and same attitude followed by the Indians and there is a high proportion of people who suffered from the pandemic.

Dr. Makki from National University of Science and Technology said that it's for very first time observed how life changes. He said that we all have been shifted to e-chambers.

Dr Musferah from Lahore said that Muslim world is facing false accusations of violence, extremism with social economic and political marginalization due to misinterpretation and miscalculation of Islamic narratives. She said that in most of the countries COVID-19 is taken as a form of punishment, especially in Pakistan where women are blamed for the pandemic. This overall blame game has caused negativity in the society.

Dr Farhan Zahid, CPO, Quetta, said that in Pakistan some different trends of terrorism were experienced; our government has taken different initiative to control it.

Speaking at a session on ‘Rural Communities in the Fight against COVID-19, experts said that rural communities are most prone to the pandemic, therefore, a robust awareness and preparedness campaign among these communities can help them save them from the pandemic.

Dr Pervez Tahir, Former Chief Economist, discussed as to how the rural community can be taken on board during emergency, which, otherwise, always has been be a challenge.

Dr Rashid Bajwa, CEO National Rural Support Programme, said that NRSP has connected 9.2 million families throughout the country. He added that the rural community-based organizations are the best tools to bring awareness and prevention against such catastrophes.

Nadir Gul Barech, CEO of Balochistan Rural Support Programme said except WHO Infection Prevention and Control awareness campaign there was nothing available regarding how to tackle with this pandemic.

Ms Shabana Iftikhar and Shandana Khan from NRSP said the important thing about the RSP is that in a village community both men and women can work together through this platform. It helps in bringing solutions to the rural community problems by taking a comprehensive approach.

Earlier, speaking at a plenary on The Future of Sustainable Development in #Worldaftercorona, Dr Sunita Narain, Director-General, Centre for Science and Environment, India; & Editor of Down to Earth magazine, said: “It is very confusing time; everything that is happening is also not happening; it is very important to understand that what is happening today, but never happened before.” She said this large-scale disruption made us know that how interdependent we are. Sunita said that this pandemic has also brought opportunities and lessons for us. She said there is a mass migration in India from urban to rural; that’s why the government needs to invest in resilient rural so that we might be able to bring stability to our environment. Sunita said sustainable food is important, but we also need to get control over the junk foods.

Prof. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr from The New School, New York said coronavirus has hit the world in full blow, so countries are not making progress in line with SDGs. Owing to pandemic, millions in developing countries lost their employments and international community has not done well in their debts, she said, adding that capitalism is extremely corrosive towards economic stability and we need to do good things to improve our economic models and should see economies in economic context and not in the context of politics. In response to a question, she said she sees civil society a hope that can make changes to the future of sustainable development.

Alice Ruhweza, Africa Regional Director, WWF-International said due to pandemic, SDGs went down in many ways and COVID-19 has left us in the lurch. Highlighting the importance of traditional foods and vegetables, she said these foods were the ones which helped us during this global pandemic as compared to supply chain issues in other foods. She added that we need to make our youths empowered in order them to lead for the accountability of their governments. She said everyone has the right to get vaccine even from low-income countries; by doing so, we can create a global stability against the pandemic. She added that young people are awakened, and hopes can be found in them to lead their countries.

Yolanda Kakabadse, WWF Board member & President of IUCN said that COVID-19 has democratized discussions for the most privileged ones and discovered value to the farmers. She added that this pandemic showed that the world is not prepared for upcoming pandemics. She concluded that connectivity is paramount and only the linkage can lead us to sustainable development.

Speaking at a panel titled: Negotiating the Climate amid COVID-19, Dr Adil Najam, Dean, Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University, USA said that the big challenge to most of our species is climate change and its impact which can’t be ignored. We, the humans, have broken this planet and we won’t be able to stop it at 1.5 degrees Celsius if temperatures continue to rise at this rate.“The western world has led us down and developing nations have given up and now is the time we should start taking it seriously as climate negotiations are not being a success. We should get away from emissions. We shouldn’t look for what we will have to do in the future but what we have actually done.” He further said after climate impact, the poorest will have to adapt because they have the least resources. Smog policy, water policy, etc. come under adaptation policy, he said.

Ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel, Chairperson of SDPI Board of Governors, highlighted that international talks are going on, but the only difference is the quality and quantity of evidence. China has gone for renewable resources, and launched electric vehicles, he said, adding that when we go for mitigation, basically we are battling for clean energy. Pakistan doesn’t have the essentials equipment to produce clean energy like we don’t have enough turbines to produce wind energy, he maintained

Sobiah Becker from FCDO, Islamabad, said that the fight against climate change is an uphill battle. “We destroyed our own home (earth) and we are going towards a point where we will not be able to survive, he said, adding that about 50% of the forests have been destroyed and species have been lost. Therefore, we need to have a future not only for ourselves but also for our future generations. Pakistan needs to make a significant investment in this regard, he emphasized

Mr. Harjeet Singh, Global Climate Lead, New Delhi highlighted that the current climate crisis is not because of developing countries but because of elites (developed nations) and they are responsible for it. Owing to climate change, the Islands are sinking; millions of people are facing disasters one after another. We should reflect on why we are so late; why we haven’t done so much for it; and why the developing countries have failed to provide alternatives.

Hassan Sipra, SRO, COMSATS University, Islamabad said that climate change is a global phenomenon that has gone to the local level. The western world has been able to reduce 40% to 65% emissions but for developing nations, it would be quite difficult. He mentioned an IFC report which stated that the global agreement on climate change adopted in Paris helped open up nearly $23 trillion in opportunities for climate-smart investments in emerging markets between now and 2030. We’ll have to continue our negotiation for the climate change debate.

At a concurrent session titled: Air Quality and Health Issues, Director-General, Environment Protection Agency Farzana Altaf Shah told participants as to how Clean and Green Pakistan Program is working in different cities and guiding the farmers about solid waste burning and management. She stressed the need for sharing authorized data on air pollution with the public sector.

Abid Omar from Pakistan Air Quality Initiative, Karachi discussed that how there is a drop in NO2 after lockdown, but it is still not meeting the safe limits of WHO. He emphasized that we need to work on industry, agriculture, urban waste and transportation in a monitored way to control air pollution.

Director of Chintan ERAG, New Delhi Bharati Chaturvedi discussed that air pollution can be related to the deaths due to COVID-19 in France, Italy and Spain. She emphasized that South Asian people are more vulnerable to air pollution due to their jobs, housing issues and poor health infrastructure. She called the century as a century of pandemics due to SARS, Ebola, Influenza and the recent COVID-19.

Dr Gabriel Filippelli from CUH, IUPUI, Indianapolis, talked about the situation of air pollution in USA. He said that we need to be aware of the ingredients that are contributing to the pandemic and get ahead of them. He highlighted the inflammatory disorder in respiratory system due to air quality. The NO2 emission dropped by 50% in the US during the pandemic situation. He appreciated the active monitoring of air pollution in USA and the fact that the data is public. He urged Pakistan to take action instead of speaking. 

Speaking at a session on Impact of COIVD-19 pandemic on higher education: Challenges and way forwards. Former chairman of Board of Investment Haroon Sharif said education is considered the top most priority sector of a country and the current pandemic has impacted the higher education in various ways. Highlighting the challenges higher education is facing, he said the COVID situation has made the educational sectors focus on the expansion of digital education.

“COVID has increased the pressure on the fiscal sector of the country as more and younger labour force is entering the market but with low productivity.” He gave some serious statistics about the expansion of digital education that only 14% of the students have laptops while 95% use cellphones for educational purposes in the current scenario. Moreover, the development budget of Pakistan is shrinking which demands investment funds to be established. He also suggested the formation of knowledge-based economy.  

Rita Akhter, ED, USEFP Pakistan, said that change in policies and rules have been made in the full bright scholarship opportunity due to the pandemic situation. She identified one of the positive aspects of the current situation on higher education is that we have learnt the effective usage of virtual resources.

Syed Muhammad Ali, Vice-Chancellor, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad stressed the need to look into the accessibility of students as in the beginning the faculty was also facing these issues. However, in the current scenario, the biggest challenge is not to build a strong infrastructure but to change the mindset. He suggested adding online blending and hybrid learning system in digital education to make it more effective.