Politics of numbers

populationBy Zubeida Mustafa

THE Pakistan Economic Survey 2015-16 reminds us of our ticking population bomb. We are told that today the country’s population stands at 195.4 million — 3.7m more than it was the previous year. We have regressed. The population growth rate stands at 1.89pc in 2016. It had dropped to 1.49pc in 1960-2003. Continue reading “Politics of numbers”

What is LSBE?


By Zubeida Mustafa

I WAS first introduced to the term ‘life skills-based education’ at a forum of the Indus Resource Centre a few weeks ago. The term was used freely but it was not elucidated sufficiently, at least not for novices like me.

The IRC, which is doing very good work by promoting education in Sindh, had just completed its Reproductive Health through Girls’ Education project and we had gathered for an independent assessment. This was basically a population venture funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation but fitted into IRC’s agenda since it sought to change the mindset of girls vis-à-vis reproductive health issues. This was expected to impact on the galloping population growth rate of the country — one of the most serious concerns of the day. Continue reading “What is LSBE?”

Myths and reality

By Zubeida Mustafa

Sindh24-13-06-1986THE census is one of the trickiest issues in Pakistan today because of its political and economic implications. Our policymakers have found a way around the problem. They adopt an ostrich-like approach thus hoping to wish away the challenge that the 190.3 million (World Population Review) people pose.

No census has been held in Pakistan since 1998 — the preliminary housing survey that was undertaken in 2011 was aborted when it became too controversial. Now it has been reported that the census planned for 2016 and announced in March is unlikely to be held.

The government cannot be condoned for its negligence. Policymaking has to go on and some numerical guidelines always help. Despite the apathy of the official sector, demographic statistics have registered an improvement — but not enough to make an impact. Continue reading “Myths and reality”

Save Karachi

By Zubeida Mustafa

RUMANA Husain’s recently published Street Smart: Professionals on the Street comes as a reminder of how we are losing the city where many of us have lived and worked for most of our lives. Karachi is no more what I remember of it when I was a child.

Some categories of the blue-collar workers, as Rumana calls the people who are the subject of her book, no longer exist. Mechanisation, technology and lifestyles have made them redundant. That is change, as the new replaces the old. But the tragedy is that the street professionals no longer knit the community together as they once did. Continue reading “Save Karachi”

Shattered dreams

By Zubeida Mustafa

A FEW years ago, when the army operation took place in Swat and many families were displaced, I went to Baldia in Karachi to meet some of them. There I was introduced to a man who told me that he had 19 children. He had two wives. I was awestruck by his virility.

He may have been an exception. But we should not underestimate the reproductive capacity of Pakistanis. According to the Population Council in Islamabad, in 2012 Pakistan had nine million pregnancies of which 4.2m were unintended. Of these 2.25m ended in induced abortions. In other words, over six million babies were born that year. Continue reading “Shattered dreams”

Helping oneself

By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST week was World Humanitarian Day. It came as a simple reminder that the world is not a welcoming place any longer for a large number of people in countries beset with crises. Conditions have deteriorated to such an extent globally that the need for humanitarian help has been growing. Yet, at the same time, brutality against aid workers is also on the rise making them more vulnerable. In 2013 alone, 155 aid workers were killed and 134 kidnapped.

Why this need for humanitarian aid? The fact is that frequent emergencies are being created due to ever-increasing conflict and also natural disasters — many of them manmade — such as floods and droughts. Pakistan has experienced these in abundance in recent times. We seem to be living from crisis to crisis. Such an abnormal pattern of existence pre-empts economic and social development and growth while whatever progress had been achieved in the preceding period has been undone. Continue reading “Helping oneself”

The media’s role

By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST week the Indus Resource Centre (IRC) and the Sindh Education Foundation held a joint consultative roundtable — the second such event in a series — to study the impact of the Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2013.

The project funded by UKAID and DAI Europe seeks to mobilise schoolchildren to create a visible demand for education.

This consultative process has proved to be an instructive exercise and holds great promise, provided the IRC’s strategy remains judicious and does not succumb to ill-considered demands by the financiers. Ideally, education projects should be indigenously funded to ensure local discretion to determine strategy. But this is not always possible given resource constraints.

Initially, the IRC held a baseline survey in eight districts of Sindh. Called ‘It’s my right, make it happen’, the survey found that barely 2pc of the respondents knew about the right to education (RTE) law. Even the functionaries of the education department lacked awareness of the act passed in February 2013. Continue reading “The media’s role”

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”. Continue reading “A basic truth”

Who shapes health policies?

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN a country where policies are formulated in an ad hoc fashion and are designed to promote the interests of a vested class rather than of the people as a whole, it is creditable that there are researchers trying to inject some rationality into the decision-making process.

That is how I see the move by the Research and Development Solutions, an organisation working on collecting information, analysing it and sharing it with concerned parties. ResDev’s focus is on health, specifically maternal and reproductive health and immunisation. Above all, the research is done professionally under the director Dr Adnan Khan.

And who would deny that our health policy making leaves a lot to be desired? With a measly 0.7pc of GDP being assigned for the health sector in the official budget, Pakistanis end up incurring the heaviest out-of-pocket expenditure on health in South Asia. It does leave one wondering as to how policies are made.

ResDev’s latest research promises to be an innovative one and might prove to be very revealing as well. Continue reading “Who shapes health policies?”

Manifestos and population

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN the ongoing violence-stricken election campaign there is a lot of talk about the economy and how that needs to be fixed to improve people’s lives. The political parties in the fray have apparently come to realise that public discontent focuses on the rising level of unemployment, spiralling inflation and growing poverty.

Hence the candidates have responded to popular concerns by making promises that offer the people a heaven on earth. The party manifestos are full of populist rhetoric meant to appease the voters. Those who understand the flaws in the official system and know that structural changes are needed to rectify the wrongs can see through the hollow pledges being made and the inadequacy of the approach adopted. It is therefore not strange that all parties shy away from specifics, and strategies in various sectors are not even defined. Continue reading “Manifestos and population”