primary microcephalyCouples and women commonly come to pray for fertility at the shrine of Shah Daula in Gujarat, Pakistan. According to certain beliefs, women who conceive after praying at the shrine donate their firstborn child to the shrine to prevent disabilities from appearing in the rest of their children. These children, dubbed the “rat children of Shah Daula,” largely suffer from primary microcephaly, a medical condition where the head’s circumference is smaller than average and the brain is smaller on average as well.

Many of these children beg around the shrine and surrounding cities. Theories in the past as to how these individuals came to be range from artificially-done microcephaly to genetics. Regardless, history and current issues of exploitation of the children and adults in the shrine of Shah Daula remain. Furthermore, addressing the cycle of poverty for these individuals stands as a critical priority.

Artificial or Genetic

One of the main conversations surrounding the “rat children” consists of the nature of primary microcephaly. The belief of artificially inflicting individuals with primary microcephaly has its roots in certain religious traditions connected to the Shah Daula shrine. The process involves putting an iron ring around a child’s head to restrict the growth of the head and brain, shaping their features to resemble rats. This typically forces these children to have to beg for a living.

Genetics also cause the deformities. Medline states that in Northern Pakistan, which has one of the highest rates recorded, primary microcephaly affects one in 10,000 newborns.  The high prevalence correlates to higher rates of intrafamilial marriages, which results in higher rates of genetic disorders.

However, despite debates on the causes, individuals born with primary microcephaly suffer a neurodevelopmental disorder. They bear the medical symptoms for the rest of their lives. Individuals with primary microcephaly typically experience the following in varying degrees: delayed speech and language skills along with delayed motor skills. It is these qualities that make the children and adults suffering from this neurological disorder vulnerable to exploitation. Many of the children and adults of the shrine of Shah Daula do not have anyone to depend upon and are largely left to beg on the streets for money.

Struggling with Exploitation

Origins of the condition aside, many people with primary microcephaly remain in poverty due to exploitation. In an academic study from the Quaid-e-Azam University of Pakistan, one interviewee describes how villagers in certain areas took advantage of disabled individuals for financial gain. “Villagers take these kids from their parents by giving them money and make them bareheaded.” The money the children receive from begging would then go into the villagers’ hands.

Many aspects of the mistreatment surrounding microcephalic children and adults remain illegal under the Pakistan Penal Code. Section 328 in the Pakistan Penal Code relates to the “[e]xposure and abandonment of a child under 12 years by a parent or person having care of it.” This means that mothers, fathers or guardians cannot leave a child anywhere with the intention to abandon the child.

Sections 332 and 335 make disfigurement, whether temporary or permanent, punishable by law. Section 374 separately states, “Whoever unlawfully compels any person to labor against the will of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment [or fines or both].” Nearly every aspect surrounding the treatment of microcephalic individuals in Pakistan can be considered illegal.

Offering Solutions

While there has not been major change concerning the treatment of microcephalic children and adults in Pakistan, new laws supporting the exploited and abandoned are a step in the right direction. In 2016, the parliament of Pakistan passed the Unattended Orphans (Rehabilitation and Welfare) Act, with the aim of “protecting the rights of unattended orphan and abandoned children” as well as “ensuring provision of facilities to them, including housing, education and healthcare.”

The Act also necessitates that the government “take other measures as may be necessary for their rehabilitation and welfare.” Importantly, the Act declares that anyone “who forces any unattended orphan to beg and commit petty crime or pick rags or any act which is injurious to health and dignity of an orphan will be punished with imprisonment of not less than four years, which may be extended to seven years and a fine of up to Rs200,000.”

Medical care for these individuals and providing for their basic needs so that they are not left vulnerable could improve fundamental conditions. The Technology Times suggests an increase in genetic counseling to address the role that genetics and “consanguineous” marriages play in the high rates of primary microcephaly in Pakistan.

An increased focus on helping those afflicted would benefit many in Pakistan. To lead to a point of positive change, the Pakistani government can evaluate from joint medical and policy standpoints to better help some of those most in need.

Grace Ingles
Photo: Unsplash

crowdfunding is reducing povertyIn 1997, modern-day crowdfunding gained global traction as British rock band Marillion funded their U.S. tour entirely through fan donations. Since then, crowdfunding has transformed into a global market. It is capable of financing aid projects, resource distribution and business ventures. Thus, crowdfunding is reducing poverty in developing countries, as proven around the world.

What is Crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is a fundraising method performed on the internet. Investors contribute small amounts of capital to finance an idea or aid individuals. Using social media networks, crowdfunding works to draw people’s attention to situations of need. Moreover, it creates an opportunity within which anyone with money can invest.

Crowdfunding is typically performed through loans and donations. The loan system helps businesses that are developing a product or resolving a conflict. In this regard, crowdfunding is reducing poverty by giving investors an incentive to have a stake in a business’s success. Additionally, donations are a way for individuals to raise money after being impacted by natural disasters or medical expenses. In both ways, crowdfunding improves fundraising accessibility on a global scale.

Crowdfunding’s Growing Popularity

Crowdfunding became a popular option for entrepreneurs at the turn of the 21st century. Sites such as Kickstarter and GoFundMe have expanded globally. Revenue increased “from $530 million in 2009 to $1.5 billion in 2011,” contributing to economic growth. Not only does crowdfunding allow individuals to invest in campaigns directly but it also brings attention to causes around the world as a catalyst for poverty reduction.

Market Potential

According to the World Bank, crowdfunding’s popularity is spreading from developed to developing countries. In order to boost profitability, global poverty reduction legislation has created an opportunity for crowdfunding to thrive. Due to advancements in income equality and job growth, there are up to 344 million households that can contribute small investments to crowdfunding platforms. This means that by 2025, nearly $96 billion can be raised just through crowdfunding alone.

Thus, crowdfunding is reducing poverty through its ability to connect people around the world. When observing diaspora remittances, education and housing funding, crowdfunding has the potential to increase capital by 25% more in developing countries. As such, in emerging economies that struggle to provide adequate healthcare, crowdfunding can alleviate some of that pressure.

Crowdfunding and Health

A 2018 study by the British Medical Journal studied poverty in India. The Journal found that 38 million people went into poverty as a result of self-financing healthcare bills. The second wave of COVID-19 hit India hard, and as such, many citizens relied on crowdfunding instead of insurance coverage. Through crowdfunding, nearly $1.6 billion was raised from more than 2.7 million donors. Thus, while developed countries have adopted crowdfunding as a method to support innovative business ideas, the developing world is seeing money channeled into small projects or helping others afford medical bills.

Leading by Example

As crowdfunding has gained popularity, several platforms are working to help those in need. Kiva is a loan-based platform that started in 2005. This website allows people to crowdfund loans that support more than 1.7 billion people who are unable to access essential financial services. Kiva’s work spans 77 countries, funding female-led businesses, youth education and medical expenses. In total, Kiva has supported $1.63 billion worth of loans.

A forerunner for crowdfunding sites in India, Milaap, offers investors the opportunity to contribute donations for causes they are passionate about without incurring any fees. Started in 2010, Milaap’s team has been a pioneer in providing funding to rural areas and small businesses. Now, crowdfunding is reducing poverty in healthcare, making Milaap the go-to platform to raise money for treatments and operations.

Similarly, Transparent Hands is the largest crowdfunding platform in Pakistan, which also assists the health sector. Those who are in extreme poverty can rely on donations made by people around the world to help cover the costs of surgery.

Overall, crowdfunding is an emerging resource that is positively affecting the scope of global poverty. Its potential to provide funding to low-income groups is an important step toward solving inequality.

– Nicole Yaroslavsky
Photo: Flickr

Pakistan’s vaccination campaignOn July 17, 2021, COVAX gave 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Islamabad, Pakistan. These doses are an addition to five million COVID-19 vaccines already delivered to Pakistan by COVAX. By July 17, 2021, Pakistan had fully vaccinated 4.5 million people and partially vaccinated 18 million people. The new batch of vaccines will assist the government of Pakistan’s vaccination campaign, which started in February 2021.

The COVAX Initiative

COVAX, an international coalition led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, WHO, CEPI and UNICEF, aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. These organizations have teamed up with manufacturers to secure COVID-19 vaccine doses as well as manage the “freight, logistics and storage” of the vaccines.

Through COVAX, vaccines will be delivered to “92 low- and lower-middle-income countries” as well as “more than 97 upper-middle-income and high-income nations.” With these vaccine equity efforts, COVAX aids more than 80% of the global population. So far, COVAX has assisted Pakistan’s vaccination campaign by supplying 2.4 million doses of AstraZeneca, roughly 100,000 doses of Pfizer and 2.5 million Moderna vaccines to Pakistan.

COVID-19 in Pakistan

Pakistan was seeing slow economic improvement prior to the pandemic with yearly per capita growth averaging just 2%. Since the onset of COVID-19, Pakistan has now surpassed one million COVID-19 cases with more than 24,000 deaths. Furthermore, COVID-19’s impacts have left about 50% of the working class jobless and many of those who retained employment saw their income decrease. Informal and lower-skilled employees were the most impacted by unemployment. Like many countries, poverty has risen in Pakistan, with more than two million people pushed under the international poverty line in 2020. According to the World Bank, poverty incidence increased from 4.4% to 5.4% in the 2020 fiscal year.

Pakistan’s Vaccination Campaign

In the months following the lift of lockdowns in May 2020, Pakistan’s economy had been slowly recovering as the industry and service sectors became more active and production increased. Pakistan’s vaccination campaign is essential to stop the spread of COVID-19 and continue economic progress.

The World Health Organization’s Pakistan representative, Dr. Palitha Mahipala, praised the country’s vaccination campaign. She described the reach of the vaccination effort as a “remarkable achievement.” According to Dr. Mahipala, Pakistan distributes COVID-19 vaccines equitably, reaching citizens in even the most remote areas of Pakistan. Another UNICEF Pakistan representative, Aida Girma, says that the latest delivery of 1.2 million doses comes at a “critical time” as the Pakistani government aims to significantly boost its vaccination campaign to reach a greater portion of the population.

Looking to the Future

According to the World Bank, “the global economy is expected to expand 4% in 2021, assuming an initial COVID-19 vaccine rollout becomes widespread throughout the year.” Furthermore, according to the World Economic Forum, equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines means “10 major economies could be $466 billion better off by 2025.” These projections show that COVID-19 vaccination campaigns support economic recovery, nationally and internationally. With further support, there is hope for the full vaccination of Pakistan’s population in the near future, which will help boost the country’s recovering economy, contributing to overall global economic recovery.

Gene Kang
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

female labor in PakistanThe Karachi branch of Caritas Pakistan works to provide technical assistance and job training to the women of small Pakistani farms in several villages as part of its Acre for Women campaign. The campaign’s goal is to leverage the untapped potential of female labor in Pakistan. Providing training and opportunities to women will expand food security among the country’s vast population of subsistence farmers by encouraging self-sufficient practices with the resources on hand, ranging from basic water efficiency to crop rotation.

A Nascent Workforce

Amir Robin, an Acre for Women regional coordinator, explained both the long- and short-term benefits of training the women of several independent farms that range as small as a single acre. In an interview with UCA News, he states that aside from increasing food security, such training helps household farms minimize the cost of adapting to changing environmental conditions.

Female participation in the Pakistani labor force runs as low as 25%, according to World Bank estimates. The government aims to increase the amount to 45% by 2025. Accelerating Pakistan’s economic growth by boosting female labor involves eliminating the reasons for female labor’s systemic underuse.

Educational Disparities

First, women face limited access to formal education or vocational training. Girls make up about 53% of children that do not attend school in Pakistan, therefore, girls benefit the most from development programs. Such programs include those sponsored by the Engro Foundation, the “social investment arm” of Engro Corporation, a conglomerate company headquartered in Karachi, Pakistan. By sponsoring new government schools and refurbishing old ones with computer labs, Engro aims to increase the literacy rate among girls.

In light of COVID-19’s effect on unemployment rates, expanding educational opportunities remains the primary short-term focus of increasing female participation in the labor force. Engro’s programs are demonstrating fast results. More than 19,000 self-employed women are improving their livelihoods through vocational training in “animal husbandry practices, entrepreneurship in milk collection and livestock extension services in the dairy value chain.” Additionally, a surge of technologically literate women helps overcome difficulties in the job market due to greater access to advanced occupations.

Farm Income Depends on Women

Pakistan’s largest source of potential growth lies in its agricultural sector. Around 64% of Pakistanis live in rural areas and mostly work in agriculture. A large portion of the national economy depends on the output of family farms. There are two significant reasons why discounting women as a source of skilled labor in farm management is becoming an increasingly untenable prospect.

  1. Subsisting on relatively small parcels of land leaves farmers vulnerable to fluctuations in output. Because population growth and regular divisions of hereditary ownership make land parcels ever smaller, families that make do with smaller farms do not have the luxury of maintaining inefficient practices when handling their crops or their labor pool. A report by Victoria University says Pakistan’s high concentration of household farms means greater efficiency can be achieved, in this case, by including female labor. This translates into direct income boosts for families along with greater business activity thanks to new surpluses.
  2. Running a successful farm with little land is already dependent on women. Despite lacking gainful employment, women are informal participants in the Pakistani economy through unpaid domestic work. Victoria University’s study correlates a lack of job training and reduced output from inefficient practices, meaning that a lack of trained women is a bottleneck stifling household income growth.

Individual Growth for Women

Households stand to benefit from elevating women in the agricultural labor pool. Furthermore, developing female labor in Pakistan by addressing women’s exclusion in skilled practice will reverse the economic misfortune that prior restrictions have inflicted on women.

Because most women tie their fortunes as self-employed laborers to those of their families, increasing farm income is an effective way to enrich farming women’s income. Growth for Rural Enhancement and Sustainable Progress (GRASP) is yet another initiative operating in Pakistan working to achieve this goal. Its primary objective, according to coverage by Intracen (International Trade Centre), is training women to care for livestock and teaching them how to trade their produce. Rather than simply teaching women how to produce more, job training affords them additional autonomy by empowering them to take on a managerial role in the distribution process.

Economic Empowerment for Women

Sharmeela Rassool, a Pakistani country representative to the United Nations, emphasizes the importance of individual autonomy when it comes to increasing the participation rate of female labor in Pakistan. “For many women, entrepreneurship offers a path to economic empowerment,” she wrote in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. More and more women are using their educational attainment to run businesses outside the agricultural sector.

While COVID-19 has slowed economic growth across Pakistan, it has also exposed systemic inequality, raising an opportunity to put women in a starring role for economic recovery. The gradually decreasing gender wage gap indicates that the current trend of a diversifying workforce has yet to reach its ceiling. Overall, women’s inclusivity in Pakistan has the potential to create widespread benefits for Pakistan, helping the nation to rise out of poverty.

Samuel Katz
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Pakistan
As COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the developing world, the World Bank estimates that there will be between 119 to 124 million additional people added to poverty due to economic standstills. Developing countries are at high risk of an increase in poverty, including Pakistan. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Pakistan is substantial, but the government and other organizations have been cooperating to minimize the impact.

COVID-19’s Impact on Pakistan

In Pakistan, to date, there have been more than 22,000 COVID-19 related deaths. Vaccination programs have experienced delays, with only about 2% of the population of Pakistan currently vaccinated. To receive the vaccine, residents pay around $78, a luxury that many Pakistanis cannot afford. Due to the U.K. strain, cases are rising again. However, government officials are hesitant to enforce a strict lockdown as they did in March 2020. Rather, the government utilized the popular “smart” or “micro” lockdowns, where only specific areas go into lockdown. However, limited data exists on the success rates of these strategies.

Pre-Pandemic Pakistan

Even before the pandemic, Pakistan’s health system had limitations. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), before COVID-19, Pakistan had a ratio of one doctor to 963 people and a lack of universal healthcare. Before the virus, the poverty rate in Pakistan declined by 40% over the last two decades. However, the economic impacts of the pandemic halted poverty reduction progress.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Children

COVID-19 has impacted women and children in Pakistan more significantly than men. Due to the virus, these vulnerable groups are suffering several consequences. Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in Pakistan. In June 2020, nearly 42 million children were out of school, with 17 million children younger than 5 missing routine vaccinations.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the shutdowns due to COVID-19 have disproportionately affected women, and in particular, the garment industry, which makes up a substantial part of Pakistan’s exports. In Pakistan, the majority of the population has employment within the garment industry, with approximately one in seven women working in this sector.

To rectify the bleak situation, the Pakistan Workers Federation and the Employers Federation of Pakistan issued a joint statement of cooperation and the government provided wage support. These efforts also included a “no lay off” order and an interest rate reduction for employers who retain their employees.

The Good News

While the situation looks bleak, the government and organizations are taking action to relieve the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Pakistan. The U.N. Development Programme established a COVID-19 Secretariat at Pakistan’s Planning Commission in 2020 to facilitate the economic and social response to the pandemic in conjunction with U.N. agencies. The Secretariat supported the Pakistani government’s 2020-2021 budget and National Action Plan for COVID-19.

To alleviate the lockdown’s hardships in 2020, the government issued unconditional cash transfers of approximately $70 to 12 million vulnerable households to prevent food insecurity. To continue to support the most vulnerable population, Ehsaas, the federal social protection program, made extra payments to 4.5 million families. Under the Ehsaas Emergency Cash initiative, another 7.5 million households received monetary assistance.

Dr. Sania Nishtar, the leader of Ehsaas, said in an interview with Mckinsey, that Ehsaas “invested” heavily in time, money, energy and effort to build infrastructure, including an SMS-based request-seeking mechanism, which allowed for ease in eligibility determinations and digital payments.

The World Bank ranked Ehsaas as one of the top four social protection programs by coverage. In March 2021, the World Bank issued a statement supporting the program by approving $600 million to expand Ehsaas. The fund allocation will facilitate the expansion of the programs to reach more informal workers.

Looking Ahead

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Pakistan is significant, however, the government and organizations are working together to provide social protection to the most vulnerable groups and will continue to do so as vaccination rates increase.

– Lalitha Shanmugasundaram
Photo: Flickr

USAID Programs in PakistanFor more than 60 years, the U.S. and Pakistan have shared a mutually beneficial relationship. Pakistan is the world’s fifth-most populous nation and one of the fastest-growing economies. Recent U.S. funding through USAID has targeted economic growth as well as peace and health in Pakistan. Two current areas of emphasis, education and gender empowerment, have seen recent success through USAID programs in Pakistan, serving as a powerful example of the potential impact of aid and investment in developing nations.

The Sindh Basic Education Program

USAID has worked closely with the Government of Pakistan to improve the nation’s overall access to schools and quality of education. The Sindh Basic Education Program (SBEP) targets the Sindh region of Pakistan. The region was affected by devastating floods in 2010 and is home to 47.9 million people.

Through USAID, the U.S. has invested $159.2 million in building schools to increase primary, middle and secondary school enrollment. The program will ultimately see the construction of 106 new schools in flood-affected areas as well as the consolidation of up to 280 existing schools. These newly merged schools will help streamline and revolutionize Pakistan’s education system.

The program aims to reduce the number of small, underfunded and understaffed schools in favor of more reliable teaching and an easier flow of resources. SBEP has the potential to increase enrollment while improving the reading skills of more than 400,000 Pakistani children. The program also looks to enhance overall child nutrition.

Reducing the Gender Gap and Increasing Budget

One of SBEP’s objectives is to shrink the gender gap in Pakistan’s education system. The program will designate 18 schools constructed under SBEP specifically for adolescent girls. These spaces will include computer and science lab resources. USAID partnered with Intel to train learners and educators in information and communications technology, specifically in these girls’ education facilities.

Another goal of SBEP is to, “provide technical assistance to the Education and Literacy Department of the Government of Sindh,” a process that has already started to positively influence Pakistan’s government. Sindh Provincial Education Minister Saeed Ghani announced a 13.5% budget increase for the Schools Education and Literacy Department for the fiscal year 2021-22. This denotes the nation’s heightened emphasis on providing access to high-quality education.

Prioritizing Gender Empowerment in Pakistan

USAID programs in Pakistan prioritize addressing gender inequality in the country. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, Pakistan ranks third-last in the world in terms of gender equality due to high rates of gender-based violence and a general lack of both economic opportunity and sexual and reproductive health rights for women. The U.S. and Pakistan have identified gender empowerment as a necessary vehicle for national growth and development.

Aside from boosting girls’ access to education, USAID gender empowerment initiatives cover several areas of need, aiming to create a more inclusive and equitable society. Beginning in 2012, “USAID-supported interventions have helped nearly 11 million women and children receive quality maternal, child and reproductive healthcare services.” The organization also trained Pakistani women to administer quality “health services to women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province through a mobile health unit program.”

Female Economic Empowerment

Programs also promote entrepreneurship and job creation, specifically for Pakistani women. USAID has impacted at least 50,000 female entrepreneurs with business development services, training and grants. By funding training and new technologies in agriculture, USAID helped create job opportunities for women.

USAID also assisted with placing female graduates in the male-dominated yet burgeoning Pakistani energy sector. Furthermore, USAID contributed to training close to “16,000 female political party representatives” to improve female representation in politics. USAID’s efforts focus on the development of women — a key step in diminishing the nation’s gender gap and lifting women out of poverty.

The Power of Partnership

Between reforming education by building and consolidating schools and empowering women through improved healthcare and career opportunities, USAID programs in Pakistan are fundamentally changing the lives of those most in need. The successes of USAID programs highlight the benefits of partnerships as the U.S. and Pakistan collaborate to reduce poverty and inequality.

Sam Dils
Photo: Flickr

USAID’s PATTA ProgramFarming plays a dominant role in the national economy of Pakistan. With a population of more than 200 million, Pakistan is heavily reliant on agriculture to provide food for people. Agriculture contributes almost 20% to Pakistan’s GDP, and as of 2019, employs more than 40% of the workforce. Smallholder farms are often at a disadvantage as they have limited access to improved technology, which prevents them from producing high yields of crops. To combat this issue, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has funded the Pakistan Agricultural Technology Transfer Activity (PATTA), an initiative designed to increase Pakistani farmers’ access to improved agricultural technology. USAID’s PATTA program is also designed to encourage private sector investment in agriculture to increase incomes and efficiency.

Agriculture in Pakistan

Despite the overwhelming need to preserve the agricultural sector, the industry has seen a decline in productivity over the years. Pakistan is especially vulnerable to environmental degradation and instances of water shortages and extreme temperature fluctuations have severely damaged the country’s ability to produce enough crops to feed its populace. As a result, Pakistan stands to benefit from the advancements in agricultural technology. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), these improved technologies can aid in improving agricultural productivity by 70% by the year 2050.

The PATTA Program

To assist Pakistani farmers with obtaining improved agricultural technologies, USAID funds the four-year PATTA program which began in 2017. This program “enables the private sector to give Pakistani farmers access to innovative agricultural products and management practices, which improve productivity and enhance competitiveness.” To facilitate this, USAID introduced the “Agri-Tech Hub” in 2020, a comprehensive suite of agricultural technologies with the potential to change the lives of farmers. The PATTA program encourages  private sector investment in Pakistani agriculture “to commercialize the types of agricultural technologies that enable smallholders to increase their incomes, create jobs and enhance economic growth and stability.”

Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) is an agricultural organization that is also involved with the PATTA program. This organization assists agricultural technology businesses in expanding their markets by doing cost-benefit analyses as well as creating strategies on how these businesses can provide technical support and build capacity for small farmers. Additionally, the CNFA sets up demonstration events in which businesses can display the effectiveness of their products. These events often use different mediums such as radio and the internet in order to reach many different groups of people. Overall, the CNFA is involved in every step of the PATTA program. The CNFA helps agribusinesses market their technologies effectively while making sure farmers can get their specific needs met.

PATTA’s Impact During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had dramatic impacts on agricultural production around the world. In Pakistan, PATTA has been assisting local governments in raising awareness of safety protocols through digital communication. For example, during the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, PATTA partnered with the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s agriculture department in developing “tele-farming advisory services on agricultural technologies” through SMS and robocalls to deliver pertinent information to farmers.

PATTA has also utilized the radio in order to spread its messages. From May to July 2020, PATTA encouraged the use of agricultural technologies via radio broadcast to 23 selected districts across Pakistan, reaching approximately three million people. The use of digital communications allowed for social distancing as the pandemic prevented conventional meetings from taking place.

USAID’s PATTA program helps farmers acquire improved technologies in order to increase their crop yields. By engaging with the private sector, PATTA assists both agribusinesses and farmers in expanding. The concrete outcomes of the program are yet to be released, but nonetheless, it is clear that agricultural technologies have the potential to increase the incomes of smallholder farmers and reduce poverty in Pakistan.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Children in Pakistan
Pakistan is a mostly Muslim country between Afghanistan and India in South Asia. The country gained independence in 1947 and the government operates as a parliamentary democracy. In recent years, the country has adopted Sunni Islam’s essence, with Northern Pakistan facilitating a sanctuary for various Islamic extremist groups. The life expectancy in the country averages 67 years. In 2015, an Asian Development Bank report determined that 24.3% of Pakistanis live below the poverty line and UNAIDS claimed that 190,000 Pakistani are HIV positive. The organization also stated that the number of deaths from HIV cases has increased by 385% since 2010, with only 12% of patients receiving treatment. Unfortunately, the number of children in Pakistan with HIV has been significant.

Recent HIV Outbreak

Between April and July 2019, medical professionals diagnosed 735 children in Pakistan with HIV. The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled the epidemic as a Grade Two Emergency. This implies a moderate approach to combating the problem since, according to WHO, Pakistan is one of the lowest spending countries when it comes to funding for health. Pakistan utilizes only 3% of its GDP for healthcare, whereas its neighbor, Afghanistan, allots 10%. Per person, Pakistan spends less than $45 on annual healthcare.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, many essential health issues have received neglect. In September 2020, Lancet Global Health constructed an investigation around how the pandemic has affected other health crises. In its findings, reports determined that deaths for HIV have increased by 10% since the beginning of the pandemic. The medical system has been under stress due to the pandemic, leading to a decrease in medical support for HIV. During this time, a local reporter named Gulbahar Shaikh, who had been covering a story in Ratodero around this time, decided to have his children tested to be safe. He was reportedly stunned when his daughter, Rida, came back positive for HIV.

Solutions

In November 2019, cases of HIV-positive children in Pakistan started to emerge in Ratodero, a city just north of Larkana. In fact, reports stated that 1,132 children had HIV in Ratodero. As soon as possible, the local government sent experts to respond. During their investigations, it came to light that many of the patients did not have infected parents, which set off a red flag to officials. They later found that many of the infected children saw a doctor named Muzaffar Ghanghro. He was a cheap, in-town physician working primarily with children. Finding this, officials made Ghanghro obtain a test for HIV too. Even when his results came back positive for HIV, he denied the results.

The officials found Ghanghro fully responsible for the increase in outbreaks within children in Ratodero, and police arrested him. He spent about two months in jail but the pediatrician has not received any charges.

In 2019, $6.3 million went into funding investigations for children in Pakistan with HIV, resulting in the shutting down of 300 medical facilities in Ratodero. However, unlicensed private clinics still function on “nearly every block,” and several facilities do not even have a place for physicians to wash their hands.

Save the Children

In 2020, UNAIDS and the United Nations HIV program reported that 2.8 million individuals under 20 were living with HIV. Additionally, over 50% of those individuals were under 10 years old.

An organization fighting for the betterment of children named Save the Children works in Pakistan. Together with the National Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Network, the organization provides reputable health facility managers to implement more humane health responses. The Mothers, Newborn and Child Health Program (MNCH) is an integral part of what Save the Children offers for healthcare. The program provides improved services from households to hospitals to moms and their children. The program’s focus is on the already existing primary healthcare facilities within areas of poverty in Pakistan. The program ensures a healthier emergency and medical experience for children in Pakistan.

Save the Children also has an initiative explicitly targeting individuals with HIV/AIDS. The project consists of providing more support to the physicians practicing in Pakistan. This program provides care to People Living with HIV (PLHIV) through Community and Home-Based Care services. The service actively raises awareness on transmission causes along with referring cases to further investigations. Together with the other efforts, Pakistan hopes to change the trend of rising HIV numbers.

– Libby Keefe
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid in PakistanThe country of Pakistan struggles with several issues. Military operations against insurgent activities within the country have caused many Pakistani people to become displaced. Pakistan is also home to 3 million Afghans, with 1.4 million being registered refugees. This makes Pakistan the second-largest refugee host country in the world. Additionally, Pakistan suffers from natural disasters and food shortages. Pakistan’s economy suffers from imbalance because, for short periods, the economy does well, and then, it declines. This is what the World Bank terms “boom-bust cycles.” These collective issues mean humanitarian aid in Pakistan is imperative in order to address the country’s pressing issues.

The European Union Assists

The European Union (E.U.) has contributed a fair amount of humanitarian aid to Pakistan. In 2020, the E.U. addressed some of the concerns regarding internally displaced Pakistani people and Afghan refugees by providing around €40 million worth of aid. Around 60% of this amount goes towards resolving health concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. The pandemic has put the Pakistani healthcare system under strain, which makes aid increasingly important. The humanitarian aid in Pakistan is also helping to give displaced Pakistanis access to quality education and sanitation facilities.

Aid also reaches Afghan refugees who have not integrated into Pakistani society and instead live in isolated communities within Pakistan. The E.U. helps these Afghan refugees by providing them with proper healthcare, education and sanitation facilities. The E.U. support also addresses the natural disasters that occur in Pakistan. The E.U. provided €1.15 million to Pakistan in August 2020 when the country experienced severe flooding. The aid that the E.U. provided allowed for shelter toolkits, personal hygiene supplies and access to reliable water and sanitation for families that these events impacted.

The International Rescue Committee Helps

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is another organization providing significant humanitarian aid in Pakistan. From 2013 to 2019, the IRC worked with Pakistan on the Pakistan Reading Project (PRP), which aimed to improve the reading skills of 1.3 million Pakistani children. The program reached more than 1.7 million students and trained more than 27,000 teachers. The IRC further supports the education of Pakistani children by building and repairing schools. Considering the amount of displaced Pakistani people and Afghan refugees, the IRC provides what it calls “child-friendly places.” These are areas where children are safe to interact with other children and learn and heal from traumatic events they have experienced.

The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat

The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) is an organization that has been providing humanitarian aid in Pakistan since 1988. One area, in particular, is disaster response. The AKAH trains Pakistani volunteers on how to deal with any natural disasters they may encounter. These volunteers would be the first responders if a natural disaster occurs in the area they live in. These volunteers are called Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs). The AKAH has been able to establish 162 CERTs and a total of 36,000 volunteers serve as first responders. More than 50% of the 36,000 volunteers are women.

Pakistan is an impoverished nation and therefore needs humanitarian assistance to deal with the many challenges it faces. These three organizations provide aid that addresses these pressing issues.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Pakistani Flood ReliefWhen the Indus River flooded Pakistan in 2010, the effects were widespread and devastating. Among those that were hit hard were Pakistani children whose schools were severely affected by the flooding. It is estimated that the floods destroyed or damaged more than 10,000 schools. Fast forward 11 years later, however, USAID has announced a major milestone in the now eight-year-long Pakistani flood relief project called the USAID-Sindh Basic Education Programme. USAID reports the completion of 106 schools in Sindh, a province stricken by flood damages.

The 2010 Indus River Floods

The Indus River floods in July and August 2010 were a result of massive monsoon rains causing severe flash flooding in Pakistan. The floods were estimated to have damaged or destroyed more than one million homes and affected more than 20 million people in the region. The impact was felt in just about every area of life in Pakistan.

Industries like farming and healthcare were severely hurt by the floods. Farmers were estimated to have lost millions of acres of usable land and more than a million livestock. Additionally, more than 500 hospitals or clinics in the region were reportedly damaged or destroyed.

On top of this, data from UNICEF in 2010 indicated that more than 1.6 million children either saw their schools damaged by floodwaters or converted into shelters. The massive displacement of children even resulted in fears of a rise in militia kidnappings at the time.

In total, the economic impact of all of that damage done by the floods was estimated as a loss of $43 billion.

USAID’s Pakistani Flood Relief

USAID has given more than $159 million toward education relief following the flood, with $81 million of the funding put directly toward the construction of new schools in northern Sindh. The money helped facilitate the completion of 106 schools, with 14 additional schools targeted to be finished by 2023. The schools will help serve more than 50,000 students in Sindh whose schools were affected by the flood.

These new schools have been built with the inclusion of elements like laboratories and computers in order to turn them into templates for the kind of high-quality educational standard that can hopefully be provided to other areas in the country in the future.

The State of Pakistan’s Education System

Despite efforts, Pakistan’s education system still faces challenges. According to UNICEF, just 56% of Pakistani children between the ages of 5 and 16 are currently in school. This means the country has more than 22 million children in this age range out of school, making Pakistan the country with the second-most out-of-school children in the world.

Additionally, significantly fewer children are enrolled in secondary school compared to primary school and significant gaps exist in overall schooling services. Socioeconomic gaps, for example, are prevalent in areas like Sindh where only 48% of the most impoverished children in the region are in school.

In other regions like Balochistan, significant gender gaps have emerged. Only 22% of girls are in school in the region. This reflects an overarching gender problem which can be seen in the disproportionate number of boys compared to girls in the education system as a whole.

Nevertheless, USAID’s newly completed schools as part of the Pakistani flood relief efforts represent the start of positive progress being made in the country’s education system. With each and every effort, Pakistani children are given an opportunity to rise out of poverty.

Brett Grega
Photo: Flickr