Pakistan is described as a country one third of whose population lives below the line of subsistence and is poverty ridden. Successive governments have proclaimed finding ways to alleviate poverty, but except for few cash dole-outs, nothing substantial was done. The awareness about the issue is wide-ranging, however, that has prompted PTI government to take up this issue with the Chinese government that agreed to incorporate poverty-alleviation measures in the overall composition of CPEC mechanics. It is a welcome step towards helping the poor segments of population to emerge out of the poverty line.
The current monetary-based concept of poverty was almost universalized among governments and international organisations after the end of Second World War in 1945 that left in its wake large spectrum of misery and poverty. The intense awareness led to defining poverty in specific terms as a condition suffered by people who do not earn enough money to satisfy their basic material requirements. It was also classified that a majority of such people comprised of women.
The developed world soon overcame the disastrous impact of Second World War and the essential concept of poverty became alien to it. It, however, became a defining feature of the developing world. It was mostly due to the efforts of the developed world that poverty moved up the global political agenda. The situation in the developing world deteriorated because the financial arrangement devised by US-led cartel of countries consisting of World Bank, IMF and GATT was mostly utilised for security concerns leaving little for poverty alleviation.
The theories and expectations of trickle-down were accordingly discredited
and it was recognised that economic growth only reduces poverty if
accompanied by specific economic and social policies
The Cold War stimulated competition between the West and the East for winning allies in the ideological war between US and USSR. The countries in the western bloc saw their development within the context of that system that was based on growth within a free market but also they stressed the role of the state in promoting development.
The market forces succeeded in designing specific criteria for measuring economic progress through GDP per capita, economic growth and industrialization. Yet despite apparent success in conventional terms, there occurred a volatile widening of the gap between the richest and poorest population of the world and the result was that developing countries as a group entered the 1990s more indebted than the 1980s. Most of the countries of the former Eastern bloc or Second World, now known as the economies in transition from central planning to free market, suffered rapid economic decline in the 1990s and effectively joined the developing world.
The theories and expectations of trickle-down were accordingly discredited and it was recognised that economic growth only reduces poverty if accompanied by specific economic and social policies. Recognising the failure of economic growth-based indices of development, the UNDP Human Development Index was designed in 1990 to measure development in terms of longevity, education, and average purchasing power. This effort gave rise to national poverty reduction strategies as a response to shortcomings in the development practices but this approach was criticised on issues of national ownership and policy content.
The current predicament of the developing world points out that that export oriented, free-market development has increased the wealth of the West. The end of the last century saw increasing role played by NGOs and grassroots activists in poverty alleviation but this role often came under criticism. It was alternatively proposed that an alteration in power structures upholding status quo may provide a solution. Grassroots organisations challenge entrenched power structures as people defend their rights seeking local control and empowerment. This is the process Pakistan is going through as it is considered the only route for poverty alleviation
The emphasis in Pakistani case is on facilitating a community’s progress on its own terms. It is now an accepted view that community participation, empowerment, equity, self-reliance and sustainability are required for bringing prosperity to wide segments of population. This view asserts that sustainable development is to be achieved by further growth within a global free-market economy. This is the most effective way to maximise global wealth creation. Adopting this approach is considered to free up resources to ensure social progress.
The global view is also in alignment with this perception as was expressed by different international organisations particularly the World Bank. The concept of liberal implementation of economic growth is taking over pure free-market economics as a tool to help meet the basic needs of their people and ensure political stability. The change in perception has seen an increase in food production and its availability but malnourishment issue is still to be addressed.
Pakistan is in the grip of burgeoning population and the recent remarks of high-placed decision makers point out towards taking steps to check this growth that has nullified all development achieved. The ruling-groups are also taking cognizance of relieving poverty conditions through continuous cash help and it could be seen that successive governments have not scrapped Benazir Income Support Programme because, however, little it helps in aiding the poor segments.
Baqar Bilal Hussain is a social activist