A basic truth

By Zubeida Mustafa

IF there is a basic truth we still have to learn with regard to improving the lives of people it is that development can take place only when a holistic and integrated approach is adopted. It is not possible to concentrate on only one aspect of people’s socio-economic lives and expect poverty to be eliminated and growth to take place uniformly.

It would be pertinent to study the approach of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, a think tank working on strategies to address poverty issues.

The OPHDI emphasises that poverty is more than a lack of income. It is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. Even if a person is earning a reasonable amount, he may not be able to improve his life if health and education facilities are skewed in favour of the very wealthy. Violence is another factor which affects people unequally and its impact on the poor is greater. The OPHDI cites a UNDP study to point out that “successful countries have addressed different deprivations together”.

mandala-6-1177969-mThis basic truth is also recognised clearly by Zeba Sathar, country director of the Population Council Pakistan, and her co-authors in the book Capturing the Demographic Dividend in Pakistan with reference to the population sector.

While describing population as the centrepiece, Sathar refers to health, education, employment, gender and youth policies as “the spokes of the wheel of development”. Needless to say, this has not been understood sufficiently in this country. Our failure to recognise the interdependence of the different social sectors has resulted in flawed strategies that have led to our inability to achieve all-round and balanced growth.

Sathar succinctly points out that in the population and development discourse it must be made clear that the “potential effects of the demographic dividend, even when fertility begins to fall more rapidly, are not automatic”.

I feel that it is the failure of the leadership in Pakistan that it has not developed a balanced approach to development. Policies have been framed in such a way that they cater to the specific needs of some people in power, even if they militate against the wider interests of the majority. History is replete with anti-poor measures being adopted for the benefit of a small privileged class.

Development is possible only if in the words of Dr Akmal Hussain, a professor of economics, an “inclusive growth paradigm” is adopted. This means growth has to be equitable. In his chapter on equitable development, he recognises the importance of this approach.

If one were to develop only the education sector and that too with the goal of expanding coverage — as the education for all policy touted today aims to do — not much impact will be felt in the demographic sector. Education of a poor quality for the majority and high class schools and colleges for children of the elites is not going to reduce our population growth rate.

Moreover, this pattern of education will not help the youth as it will not develop a well-trained and qualified labour force. That will only result in unemployment that is already becoming the bane of our economy.

Take the healthcare sector. Very little attention is being paid to this as a result of which the health indicators of the country, as the Pakistan Medical Association has been repeatedly pointing out, are deteriorating.

This has a far-reaching impact on all other sectors. An unhealthy labour force leads to poor productivity as Pakistan has a very high disease burden. Children who lack vitality are undernourished and are falling ill frequently do not do well in their studies as their rate of absenteeism from school is high and their ability to concentrate on mental work is low.

This becomes a kind of vicious cycle. Failure in education and healthcare has the most deleterious effect on all the other areas of life. For instance, the training and employment of youth and the empowerment of women suffer most when education and healthcare have been grossly neglected. All this collectively affects the population growth rate.

What also needs to be understood is that population explosion negatively affects all socio-economic sectors. Had our population size been more manageable and growth not so rapid, it would have been easier to provide good education and healthcare to the fewer children that we would have had to care for.

So one can ask, what next? Since the relationship of one sector with the others is so profound, the impact of one on the other is far-reaching. This vicious cycle has to be broken somehow. A beginning could be made by prioritising the need to boost contraceptive prevalence by facilitating birth control services.

Given the high rate of unmet need (40pc) — women who want to use contraceptives but have no access to them — the easy availability of birth control facilities would have an immediate impact. That is also the conclusion that Capturing the Demographic Dividend reaches.

Another priority should be the empowerment of women. This will have an all-round impact on the social sectors and, by implication, on population policy outcomes. But the most immediate effect of a raised status for women would be to reduce the preference for the male child which is a major factor in determining the family size in Pakistan.

Source: Dawn

6 thoughts on “A basic truth

  1. "——The OPHDI cites a UNDP study to point out that “successful countries have addressed different deprivations together”. –

    From what is occuring in India, one should realise that just a sustained spurt in GDP and an emphasis on development of the coroprate sector , is not the answer to (say ) Rural Poverty. Our villages are way behind in any sort of progress.

    The middle class is growing up with a great expectation of sharing the fruit of development. However, growth is lopsided.

    There is corruption ; and we have politics and polititions. Hardly sounds very rosy.

  2. I am absolutely facinating to note all the references to "How to do" prescriptions. As if that is some revelations we were unaware of.
    No we may not have seen it in a formally articulated way but we knew the nuts and bolts since the dawn of humanity. Our main problem is/ was very simple to understand but very dificult to conquer.
    It is beautifully encapsulated in a quip I heard related . A child was coming out of a mosque after an Eid prayer, well attired with his father , where dozens of beggars were lining the exit on both sides, child brought up in leafy suburbia, shouted in astonishment when he saw a blind man begging. He is blind! The blind man responded yes son it was that bad till all these religious men became blind and they do not see me.
    There is no one of any clout in politics or in civil society who can see the under trodden. All of us repeat the mantra of poverty, but none of us is ready to put our hand in our pocket. Or is willing to pay our taxes.
    The second important aspect of our society is that we consider our poor brethren our equal. Otherwise we will forget the ways of the colonialist and treat other countrymen our equals. Instead dolling out goodies we should resolve our problems in a democratic ways.
    Why a Deputy Commissioner be the organising authority instead of the towns people, why should a police officer should walk rather jauntily swinging a stick in hand to lard over the taxpayer, why the prime minister or the chief minister should dish out money to help victims of injustice at will out of our money instead of a law governing such help. Why a local school should not be controlled by the parents of the children instead of the district's education officer be there as an expert employee to advise the parents on law and procedure?
    Why the officers paid by the taxpayer be the decision makers rather than to carry out the instructions of the elected citizens of the town or village ?
    It is no good shouting from the roof- tops about democracy but not getting hold of the essential rudiments of the practice ? Why is it that dozens of consumers of electricity be standing in lines for hours to pay the bills rather than making it the duty of the supplier company to collect it. If the bill is not paid the company should bear the burden rather than the consumer. It is not rocket science if the bill payment is staggered by alphabetical order so the rush is manageable.
    We put government employees in the chair and make the citizen to beg for justice and service.
    Look at the basics and give our citizens some overdue dignity. All Pakistani citizens deserve that. Yes respect to the people who serve us but remember our citizens deserve dignity and respect.

  3. A student of journalism asked his teacher as what are the most important topics upon which we should write and then in which was we should write. The teacher equipped select the topic and its way of writing that each and every reader should feel as this WRITE-UP and contents have been originated from his pen.

    Really Ms Zubeida likewise every WRITE-UP you choose the topic and contents of masses.

    At core all are worried over the various problems orbiting in a vicious circle. One problem gives birth to another and this another yet to many anothers. A person who offers bribe knows a wrong is being done and the person who accepts bribe also knows a wrong is being done.

    All are worried over the various problems as detailed by you but who will BREAK THE ICE and where the BREAK-EVEN POINT exists? What is BASIC SOLUTION to all these BASIC TRUTHS.

  4. Majority of the people are far away from truths. If you extensively travel through Pakistan and have been in contact with people from all areas of Pakistan you will be shocked. Children who open there eyes in poverty and survive is nothing short of miracle. From the lack of medical facilities at birth to the survival of mother and child is truly an example of human resilience and nature’s help. The nomadic tribes/people of Kohistan (Pakhtunkhawa), Gypsies in all provinces, Kiln workers, and serfs still exist. Besides these the displaced persons lying in the open suffering the vagaries of weather because of the floods, terrorism etc can’t even dream of a compounder/nurse leave aside a doctor. Education is a word they have not heard of and there is no chances of getting anywhere near it. They along with their families drink dirty contaminated water and live off the land.
    The women give birth to a child and are on their feet the next day or as soon as possible the nomads can’t take too long to wait for such eventualities. There are areas where people live in caves with the animals. While I was in uniform in the 70’s I saw one of my batmen belonging to Pukhtunkhwa with a needle and he was sewing the cuts of his feet, I was shocked, I admonished him why he was doing so. His simple answer, “With many children and a large family to support he has to be frugal”. I had to buy him Vaseline and socks but imagine if this was the condition of an ordinary solider of the time what would the unemployed be going through. With no drinking water available where religious wuzu (ablution) would be thought of. With Gen Tikka Khan I was visiting the salt range and asked for water for ablution (wuzu)/drink and was shocked to learn no such infrastructure existed. Yes I could do so with coca cola if I wished to as that was available. How can those roaming around in PRADOS, BMW’s, jet setters and frequent Pakistani business travelers who made their fortunes in Pakistan have put their conscience to death and can sleep comfortably at night and rule over such living dead.

  5. Couldn't agree more with you,Zubeida.But,what is important is for the activist to give of himself/herself.A mere theorizing with star-studded discourses in urban settings is quite a futile and wasteful exercise.Those in the field need to live and die with those he/she intends to work with.I have experienced a blissful life with the rural folks.The rewards against expenses is out-of-proportion.

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