It would not be wrong to say that poverty in our country is the result of low economic growth, relocation of industry, high food inflation, rising joblessness, warlike conditions, stagnant industry, slowing services sector, energy shortfall, poor governance, gender discriminatory practices and non-availability of credit to the micro and small-scale industry.
Poverty is not the issue only in Pakistan however, it is essential to address this issue at the earliest to control rising cases of suicide and ever-increasing crime level particularly in large cities of Pakistan. Looking at current scenario, it seems quite clear that our country is all set to miss the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets.
Let me tell you that in his first year as President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, the Korean-American, an academic and doctor by training, has tried to refocus the institution on fighting poverty. Around five months ago, he set the goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 by reducing the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day from 21% to 3%.
There are so many views for tackling poverty in Pakistan. There are few who think in order to tackle the menace of poverty, we need to look to the donors, however, I am of the view that we must capitalize on the national potential.
To me we have never worked on the potential of agriculture sector, which could help us eliminate poverty in the rural areas of our country, which constitute around 60 percent of our total population. Poverty in urban areas is much lower than its rural component. There are some experts who claim that eliminating poverty has never been the strategic national economic policy of the state and there is no institutionalized framework available for performing this task. The need of the hour is to wake up from deep slumber and take immediate measures at all levels. While talking to one analyst, I came to know that poverty had fallen in the Musharraf period, but began to rise in 2007 onwards till it went down in 2009 again. The level of poverty had declined from 34.4 percent of the population in 2001 to 28 percent in 2005-06, but the high food inflation brought it back to 33 percent, pushing at least 11 million people below the poverty line. The World Bank claims that poverty in Pakistan has been falling over the last decade. And one of the reasons for this is perhaps the ever-increasing remittances from abroad. It seems quite incredible that the economic growth was poor but the poverty was on decline. The credit goes to overseas Pakistanis for this.
There are individuals who think that rising sale of mobile phones, ACs, refrigerators and other electronic goods is an indicator of falling poverty. It is not the case at all rather with poor economic growth such activities put pressure on the foreign exchange reserves as majority of such things are imported.
Poverty at present is a global challenge. According to the World Bank, around 1.29 billion people live in absolute poverty out of the total population of around 7 billion. It is a fact that the biggest slum of the world is in Asia which is the indication that Asia houses large number of the poor in the world.
Just a few days ago, I had discussion in one of the talkshows with an analyst who claimed that the level of rural poverty in Sindh is very high. Though Sindh lags behind in most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there are ample opportunities in the province to accelerate progress. Reducing poverty and hunger by 2015 in Sindh are unlikely.
Our economic managers need to work on economic growth of six to seven percent, which could help reduce poverty as it generates employment opportunities and increases real income of the poor. It is sine qua non to attract foreign investment, which would be equally beneficial for the purpose. Investment-to-GDP ratio was around 20 percent in 1990s, which came down to single digit as well. Lots of endeavors are required in this field. The five-year investment policy chalked out last year aims at attracting $5 billion worth foreign investment. Incase it happens, the menace of poverty could be tackled with ease.
Overseas Pakistanis as well as high profile individuals with millions or billions of dollars need to bring the dollars back to Pakistan so that our beloved homeland and its poor majority may get some benefit.