Hemp production in PakistanIn September 2020, the Pakistani Government approved industrial hemp production, legalizing hemp and allowing hemp farming in agricultural sectors. Hemp is a type of cannabis plant, used commonly for medicinal purposes due to its cannabidiol (CBD) concentration. Considering the many benefits of hemp production, this landmark decision brings exciting possibilities for many areas in Pakistan. Since the economy of Pakistan has been long in need of a boost, the new approved hemp production and legalization is said to bring economic benefits to the country.

The Economic Benefits of Hemp Production

Officials in Pakistan’s government encouraged hemp legalization and production in efforts to relieve fiscal deficits and Pakistan’s struggling economy. Considering the industrial hemp market is worth about $25 billion globally, Pakistan’s science and technology minister, Fawad Chaudhry, says Pakistan is aiming for a profit of $1 billion over the next three years by joining the global hemp market. Exports in hemp can target CBD oils and cannabis-based products and can be a sustainable cotton replacement during slowdowns within the cotton industry.

A Sustainable Replacement for Cotton

Hemp production in Pakistan is most exciting to the workforce, especially for farmers participating in hemp markets and those working within the cotton industry. Cultivating hemp will create more jobs for the small-scale farmers responsible, but more importantly, become a sustainable replacement for cotton in Pakistan’s markets. As the fourth biggest cotton producer in the world, Pakistan’s cotton production has been declining due to climate change, water scarcity, locust attacks and industrial imbalances such as declining prices and low-grade seeds. The hemp plant’s stalk has strong properties of cellulose-rich fiber which is an effective ingredient in the making of paper, rope, construction and reinforcement materials, due to its strong fiber components. Hemp, therefore, makes for a worthy sustainable replacement to cotton.

Hemp Research Possibilities

For researchers, hemp production in Pakistan is exciting for many reasons. With the new hemp legalization, hemp research is no longer taboo, according to Muhammed A. Qayyum, an advisor in the Pakistani government and the director of Medics Laboratories. With this new allowance, researchers can delve into more potential applications of hemp in medicine and more.

Medicinal Properties of Hemp

Advocates have listed numerous medicinal properties to hemp, more specifically, the chemical cannabidiol (CBD) within the plant. Cannabis is seen as medically beneficial as the cannabinoid compound is said to relieve pain and regulate appetite, mood, memory inflammation, insulin sensitivity and metabolism. Hemp is also a valuable food supplement, incorporated in gluten-free products to increase nutritional value from hemp’s high levels of fiber and proteins.

The Potential of the Hemp Industry in Pakistan

With this new federal approval, Pakistan can enter global markets as a new exporter of CBD with the ability to generate millions of revenue similar to China, the United States and India. Hemp production in Pakistan opens up a wide range of possibilities but also brings thousands of jobs across multiple fields such as farm work, production, marketing, transportation, research and medicine. As a flexible crop, the hemp market can address several demands, from textiles, clothing, home furnishing and industrial oils to cosmetics, food and medicine.  Holding an overall market value of more than $340 billion and 263 million cannabis consumers worldwide, Pakistan’s economy can shift dramatically with the newly approved hemp production.

Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Monsoons in South Asian Countries
Monsoons are seasonal changes in the direction of the wind in a region that causes wet and dry seasons. This phenomenon is most associated with the Indian Ocean where its effects greatly impact South Asian countries. The summer monsoon, which occurs between April and September, brings the wet season. Warm, moist air from the Indian Ocean moves inland and brings heavy rainfall and a humid climate. In contrast, the winter monsoon occurs between October and April and brings the dry season, but it is often weaker than the summer monsoons as the Himalaya Mountains prevent most of the dry air from reaching coastal countries. Monsoons in South Asian countries contribute to many industries, such as farming and electricity, however, there are adverse effects.

Negative Impacts of Monsoons in South Asian Countries

Here is a closer look at how monsoons have impacted some countries.

  1. India. With a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, India is one of Asia’s largest countries. Agriculture makes up 15% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and over half of the population works in this industry. Consequently, when there is too little or too much rainfall it can be severely damaging to the economy and the livelihoods of millions. The 2009 summer monsoon, for example, brought low rainfall that prevented farmers from planting their crops. Farmers were left to sell their starved farm animals for only a fraction of the normal price. Years with little rainfall also affect India’s electricity as hydropower makes up 25% of its energy source. Likewise, higher levels of rainfall can lead to floods, coastal damage, and other disasters. In 2019, flooding due to heavy rain led to 1,200 deaths and millions of displaced individuals.

  2. Bangladesh. The low elevation and dense population of Bangladesh make it extra vulnerable to the impact of monsoons. Now, with the rise of COVID-19 and hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in the country, the summer 2020 monsoon has affected 5.4 million lives. This monsoon season brought heavy rainfall that led to the worst floods Bangladesh has faced within the last decade. Nearly a million homes were submerged underwater and 600 square miles of farmland were damaged by the floods. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made relief efforts difficult to reach the country.

  3. Pakistan. Similar to Bangladesh, Pakistan also faced heavy rainfall and floods from the 2020 monsoon season. Over 400 people have died with another 400 injured and more than 200,000 homes severely damaged from floods and landslides across the country. The government reported that the excessive rainfall destroyed nearly one million acres of farmland leaving farmers and consumers in a difficult position. In the Sindh Province, the impact of the monsoon displaced 68,000 people who are now in relief camps. The summer monsoons also affect the short-term and long-term health of victims as disease and infection spread faster within relief camps and the water.  In 2010, communities affected by flooding reported 113,981 cases of respiratory tract infections.

Relief Efforts

The countries above are only a few of the several areas affected by monsoons in the region. Fortunately, several agencies provide emergency relief for monsoons in South Asian countries. During the 2020 floods, the UN helped with the evacuation of 500,000 people and prepared to provide humanitarian aid to the most affected and vulnerable communities. In Bangladesh, humanitarian agencies worked closely with the government to provide victims with basic necessities, such as food, water, shelter, and other supplies. Additionally, the UN launched a $40 million response plan to help over one million people. The Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations gave over $1 million dollars in emergency funding to provide relief to the Sindh Province in Pakistan and funded other operations that provided basic needs to 96,250 people. Other agencies such as UNICEF standby and are ready to provide relief to any country impacted by natural disasters. The work of these organizations is critical to saving lives.

Giselle Ramirez-Garcia
Photo: Flickr

Digital Payment System in Pakistan
Pakistan has a primarily cash-based economy that thriving illegal markets and low government revenue plagues. A new digital payment system in Pakistan could change this. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the Pakistani government worked in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to launch this brand new digital cash transfer system. Additional support came from the United Nations, the World Bank and the United Kingdom.

This new digital payment system called Raast or “direct way” can instantly transfer money between two entities. Although the idea is not new and there are several other financial transaction systems on the market, Raast is the first one that received sponsorship from the Pakistani government, linking financial institutions and government entities. The government’s main goals are to make money transfers more transparent and thereby reduce corruption, increase government revenue and create a more inclusive economy.

Increased Transparency, Tax Revenue and a Less Corrupt Economy

A payment system such as Raast records every transaction in real-time and establishes a log of payments. This allows users to keep track of their transfers, and since the information is visible to all involved parties, users can report complaints or mistakes much more easily. When the Pakistani government and its citizens use Raast, it makes it possible for citizens to receive their pensions, salaries or other payments from the government much more quickly. The increased efficiency and transparency also supports small businesses and other micro-enterprises. Instead of paying cash or sending checks through the mail, they can instantly pay suppliers and distributors. This makes running a business more efficient, reliable, accessible and less prone to corruption.

The new digital payment system in Pakistan also makes it easier for the government to collect taxes by using the technology to track how much people owe and when they made payments. In 2019, the World Bank reported that Pakistan’s government collected half of what, theoretically, it should have been able to take based on its economy. Tax evasion is widespread, but it is also complicated and timely to file taxes in Pakistan. The World Bank found that there are many individuals and companies that would like to file taxes, but do not because of the time and money the process requires.

A More Inclusive Economy

In 2018, the Global Findex reported that only 7% of women age 15 and older had a bank account, and of the most economically disadvantaged 40% (men and women), 14.2% had an account. Particularly during the pandemic, it has been difficult for these underserved groups to receive government support without a bank account. Raast has the potential to serve vulnerable groups because it does not require people to travel to a physical bank, and is cheaper and easier for individuals to set up than a traditional bank account. In a report about payment systems, the World Bank stated that “secure, affordable, and accessible payment systems and services help expand financial inclusion, foster development and support financial stability.” However, without proper implementation, an endeavor such as this digital payment system in Pakistan could fall short of its goal.

In a statement at the launch, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA) Queen Máxima, discussed how important it is for all banks and service providers to adopt the new technology and to encourage individuals to use it instead of cash. If enough people and institutions use the program, it will reach its accessibility potential and spur economic growth. As Queen Máxima stated in her keynote address, the hope for this new digital payment system in Pakistan is above all to create a more digital and accessible economy.

 Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr

CARE, Increasing Access to Education in PakistanAlthough schooling is compulsory in Pakistan for kids aged 5 to 16, it is not as accessible as it could be. Nearly 22.7 million children are unable to access education in Pakistan. Girls are excluded from school at even higher rates than boys. According to Human Rights Watch, 31% of girls are not able to go to primary school compared to 21% of boys.

Barriers to Education

There are several factors that make education inaccessible for children, especially for girls. The first factor is a lack of funding. Education is underfunded in Pakistan. Only 2.8% of its GDP is spent on education, which is underperforming relative to the 4% that the United Nations recommends.

Lack of funding means that there is an unfortunate shortfall of schools and not everyone can attend, decreasing access to education in Pakistan. This issue is especially pertinent in rural areas. In Pakistan’s rural areas, schools are fewer and farther between. This makes it much harder for students to get an education, especially since private schools tend to operate in urban centers.

The second barrier to education in Pakistan is social norms. Some people in Pakistan do not believe that girls should receive an education. Particularly in more conservative communities, female students can face backlash for continuing their education. Girls also tend to be married younger, and thus have to prioritize their new families above their education. This keeps girls from attending school at higher rates relative to boys.

The third obstacle to access to education in Pakistan is instability. Given the relatively unstable nature of the Pakistani government, extremist groups have been able to launch attacks on schools, specifically against girls. This deters girls from attending school since they fear for their lives. It also creates a vicious cycle of instability, where violence hurts economic output, which in turn hurts the government’s ability to fund education.

CARE Foundation: Improving Access to Education

Fortunately, humanitarian organizations are seeking to rectify these barriers to education in Pakistan. One such organization is the CARE Foundation. The Foundation seeks to improve access to education through three key programs.

The first program concentrates on building public-private partnerships. In order to improve the educational system, CARE partners with existing public schools to rebuild infrastructures, improve curriculums and make educational resources more accessible. This program also helps build necessary infrastructure investments and rebuild existing crumbling infrastructure.

Thus far, CARE has adopted 683 government-run schools across Pakistan to improve their efficacy. In adopting schools, the organization has been able to improve its function. Enrollment in CARE’s schools has gone up 400% and a 10% decrease in dropouts. Creating public schools, which are free, is crucial in ensuring students can access education in Pakistan.

The second and third programs focus on building new schools and scholarship programs. CARE is heavily involved in the construction of new schools, where the organization can apply its unique approach to training teachers and administrators. Then, CARE helps teach the government curriculum in order to help students with the existing government tests. CARE has founded and built 33 schools that are now operational and teaching students.

Although enrollment in higher education is rising, only 15% of eligible Pakistanis are enrolled in universities. However, CARE is trying to help resolve this problem through scholarship programs. Picking eligible and high performing students, CARE offers scholarships for students to attend institutes for higher education. Its focus is on students studying medicine, commerce and engineering.

With these efforts and its three key programs, CARE is working to ensure that every student in Pakistan has access to education. While there are many barriers to education in Pakistan to overcome, the government and humanitarian organizations like CARE Foundation are increasing access to education in Pakistan, increasing youth’s opportunities and job prospects.

– Thomas Gill
Photo: Flickr 

rice exportsPakistan and India are battling a rice war, as India is attempting to gain exclusive branding rights to export basmati rice to the EU. India’s trademark “geographic indication” for basmati rice has received approval from the EU and Pakistan has three months to respond to this claim or it will not be able to export basmati rice to the EU. Further implications of expanding geographic indication could compromise other markets for Pakistan, yet its response so far has been slow and inconsistent. The EU’s decision on basmati rice exports will influence each country’s economy, and with hundreds of millions of impoverished people between the two, there is much at stake.

The Value of Rice in Pakistan and India

The basmati rice industry is one that Pakistan heavily contributes to and relies on. Pakistan contributes to 35% of global basmati rice exports and its trade to the EU has grown from 120,000 tons in 2017 to 300,000 tons in 2019. A whole 40% of Pakistan’s workers work in agriculture, with rice accounting for 20% of agricultural land.

India exported 4.4 million tons of basmati rice between 2019 and 2020, which made up 65% of global basmati rice exports.

Rice Yield Challenges

Despite rice production increasing due to new practices, rice yields in both Pakistan and India are lower than the global average. Growing challenges such as drastic climate change can negatively influence annual rice production. Experts conclude that improving irrigation facilities and increasing the use of new technology will allow the countries to effectively expand their rice yields.

Population Growth & Economic Contraction

Already the fifth most populous nation in the world, projections have determined that Pakistan will grow from 220 million to 345 million by 2045. As its population continues to grow, its economy must grow at least 7% to prevent unemployment. However, in 2019, the economy contracted from 5.5% to 1.9% and the COVID-19 crisis further exacerbated this shrinkage. Unemployment has increased each year since 2014 and currently sits between 4% and 5%. It is imperative that Pakistan jumpstarts its economy or unemployment and poverty will spread.

Poverty in South Asia

Pakistan made great strides in reducing poverty in the early 2000s but has since stalled under more recent governments. By 2015, roughly one in four people, or 50 million Pakistanis, lived under the poverty line. Furthermore, there remains little opportunity for economic improvement.

India also has few opportunities for the poor to improve their lives as it placed 76 out of 82 countries in terms of social mobility. The lack of social mobility means that most people who are born poor will die poor, with minimal chances to jump to a higher social class. India also suffers from severe social inequality and a lack of growth in rural areas. A whole 364 million out of 1.3 billion, or 28% of the world’s poor live in India. However, globalization has allowed India to bring 270 million people out of poverty between 2005 and 2015. Consequently, since 1990, the life expectancy has increased by 11 years, schooling years have increased by three years and India has increased its human development index to above the medium average.

Malnutrition Causes Infant Mortality

Pakistan has an alarmingly high infant mortality rate of 55 deaths per 1,000 live births, which is twice that of India’s. A multitude of factors causes this, most notably, the malnutrition of mothers and their infants. Although wheat and rice are produced in abundant quantities, 44% of children under 5 suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition. The problem is not whether food is available but it is that food is not accessible for the poor.

Rice as a Key Export

In Pakistan, rice provides value both nutritionally and economically. Rice accounts for 1.4% of the GDP and the traditional basmati rice makes up 0.6% of the GDP. However, most rice is sold as an export and is not used to feed hungry mouths domestically. In 2019, Pakistan exported $2.17 billion worth of rice, of which $790 million was basmati, a 25% increase from 2018.

A whole 90% of the rice grown in India is consumed domestically. Boasting the second-largest population in the world of 1.3 billion people, India accounts for 22% of global rice production but has many more people to feed than Pakistan. India is projected to produce 120 million tons of rice between 2020 and 2021.

Basmati rice exports generate massive profit for each country, If one country were to gain an advantage over the market, it would create enormous value for the winner and dire consequences for the loser. The winner would stand to gain economically and competitively as a result of increased production and profits. Additionally, increased demand for agricultural workers and production in rural areas would create revenue in historically impoverished areas.

– Adrian Rufo
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Pakistan
Every year, the U.S. State Department publishes a report on the status of human trafficking around the globe. It ranks countries using a tier system from one to three. A score of one signifies that a country is combating human trafficking at a highly proficient level. A score of three signifies that there is ample room for improvement. In 2020, Pakistan received a tier two rating for its handling of human trafficking in Pakistan.

The biggest obstacle standing between Pakistan and a tier-one rating is the prominence of bonded labor. Bonded labor is when a person, whether it is a man, woman or child, must work in order to pay off a debt. This labor is intense and usually takes place on farms or in brick kilns. The amount of debt is often ambiguous, and laborers do not receive clear contracts. On some occasions, human traffickers force entire families into bonded labor under unclear terms for open-ended spans of time. While there is still work to do, Pakistan has made major strides in the right direction.

Starting the Conversation

In order to resolve any crisis, the first step is effectively communicating that a problem exists. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has successfully pinpointed hotspots where human trafficking in Pakistan is most prevalent. These hotspots are the primary targets of hundreds of thousands of posters and flyers informing the general population of the human trafficking problem. The posters and flyers display a message that is loud and clear. “Stand up against human trafficking and migrant smuggling, it is illegal, unethical and un-Islamic.” That phrase is especially powerful, as more than 95% of Pakistanis are believers in the Islamic faith.

Cracking Down

Pakistan first took measures to combat human trafficking at the national level back in 2002. Since then, the Pakistani government has been working to pass more and more legislation to effectively resolve the problem.

In 2018, Pakistan passed the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act (PTPA). The PTPA calls for prison sentences ranging from 2 to 10 years for labor and sex trafficking violations, as well as fines of up to $6,460. Prison terms are steepest when the victim is a child.

Under the new PTPA and existing Pakistani laws, more than 1,000 human trafficking investigations took place in 2019 according to the most recent State Department report. As a result, the country made 161 convictions and there was a specific uptick in convictions related to bonded labor in comparison to the previous year.

Uncovering New Networks

Human trafficking in Pakistan is not limited to its borders. Elaborate trafficking networks between Pakistan and China have recently come to light.

A growing problem is the arrangement of fraudulent marriages between young Pakistani women and Chinese nationals. The Chinese nationals lead the Pakistani women to believe they are law abiding, financially well off citizens. However, upon arrival in China, several women have reported that the men do not fit the profile they initially received. Instead, many women discover that their “husbands” have bought them in order to use and sell them as sex slaves. Luckily, some Pakistani women have escaped these situations, and have been fighting back.

Activists Emerge

Survivors are drawing more attention to the trafficking of women between Pakistan and China. Women who have escaped provide valuable intel. Their knowledge is critical to breaking the cycle of human trafficking between the two countries.

Saleem Iqbal is a Pakistani gentleman devoted to providing safety and security (which his name literally means in Arabic) to victims. He has been working diligently to aid in the escapes of young Pakistani women from China and gain a deeper look into how these trafficking rings operate. Iqbal ensures that the women receive care and that others listen to them upon their return to Pakistan. While it is difficult at times for survivors to talk about the horrendous conditions they faced in China, the information is invaluable. With survivors and people like Iqbal working together, police can gain a much better picture of who to investigate and where.

Moving Forward

Human trafficking in Pakistan remains a high priority issue and the country can certainly take more steps to combat it. The silver lining is that there is a solid foundation to build on. That foundation includes the UN working to raise awareness, government officials passing new legislation, and survivors providing intel to law enforcement. With all of these parts working in tandem, Pakistan is one step closer to attaining a tier-one rating.

– Jake Hill
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Organizations Alleviating Pakistan’s Water Crisis
Water is a necessity to any living being and yet some countries struggle immensely with it. One such country is Pakistan. Pakistan’s water crisis and sanitation issues have lasted more than 15 years. Pakistan has reached a level where it has less than 1,000 cubic meters of water per person and could potentially run out of water entirely within five years. Fortunately, there are several organizations that are working to solve Pakistan’s water crisis.

Change the World of One

Change the World of One has recently finished a campaign concerning the water crisis in Pakistan. Its effort, Pakistan Clean Water Project, identified water access and sanitation as the two biggest problems of the water crisis and aimed to lessen the water crisis by building water hand pumps and electric pumps in a rural village in Pakistan.

The project was a success with the installation of around 10 hand and electric pumps as well as two handwashing stations and latrines. While the work focused mostly on one village, one cannot ignore the outcome of the Pakistan Clean Water Project, especially considering what the project brought to light as possible.

Paani Project

Paani Project is one of the newest organizations working in Pakistan to address its water crisis. The project’s method centers around creating outside-of-the-box solutions to public health problems, donations and creating what they call a “movement.”

Donations and direct action are important for Paani Project as they are for any NGO. This is especially critical considering the costs of developing water pumps and systems. Paani Project recognizes that through their own actions, Pakistan’s water crisis can be tackled day by day.

Charity: Water

Charity: Water has recognized the link between poverty and a lack of clean water in many countries, including Pakistan. The organization is almost entirely transparent with its projects, donations and direct goal of providing clean drinking water on their company website. Its work in Pakistan has provided a significant number of people with water and essential resources. Since 2013, Charity: Water has funded approximately 320 projects and helped around 35,458 people by drilling wells.

USAID

USAID, an organization dedicated to giving aid to foreign countries, has a current four-year plan to aid Pakistan’s water crisis. The Sustainable Water Partnership works to establish water security in Pakistan, which will improve other aspects of life such as public health, economic gains and ecosystems.

This is not its only dive into tackling Pakistan’s water crisis. It also implemented the Pakistan Safe Drinking Water and Hygiene Promotion Project that ran for approximately four years to implement better management of water, improve hygiene and better the technical aspects of water treatment, all of which was able to cover 31 districts in Pakistan in the program’s first phase.

Alkhidmat Foundation

Alkhidmat Foundation is another organization that has found success in alleviating Pakistan’s water crisis. The organization has installed approximately 131 water filtration plants, 6,312 hand pumps, 1,846 water wells and around 930 submersible water pumps.

Giving to communities that are the most vulnerable is exactly how Alkhidmat Foundation has been successful. Many of these impoverished villages do not have the funding like in bigger cities, meaning these communities cannot afford water wells and pumps. The Alkhidmat Foundation has recognized this and is working tirelessly to bring more water to Pakistan.

While Pakistan’s water crisis continues well into the 21st century, these five organizations are doing their part to alleviate Pakistan’s water crisis and are moving one step closer to ending the global water crisis through direct feet-on-the-ground action, advocacy and awareness.

– Remy Desai-Patel
Photo: Flickr

Bt Cotton Can Fight Poverty in PakistanThe Islamic Republic of Pakistan was founded in 1947 following the partition of the British India Empire. It borders India to the East, Afghanistan and Iran to the West, China to the North, and the Arabian Sea to the South. Pakistan is the fifth largest country in the world in terms of population. Poverty in Pakistan has long been an issue, but significant progress has been made in the 21st century. Between 2001 and 2015, the poverty rate fell from 64.3 to 24.3%.

Agriculture’s Success

Agriculture is one of the largest sectors of the Pakistani economy and accounted for 26% of GDP in 2015. Pakistan has historically made use of GMOs in order to successfully boost agricultural production. During the 1960s, the Green Revolution in Pakistan saw increased public funding agricultural development transform wheat production. In recent years, the emergence and widespread use of Bt cotton has demonstrated a clear ability to impact the effort to reduce poverty in Pakistan

Bt cotton and Poverty

Cotton is currently one of the major crops being grown in Pakistan. The largest threat to its cultivation is its susceptibility to pests. Pesticides have been traditionally relied upon to combat pests and protect yields. However, the emergence of GMOs in recent years presents another potential tool. Bt cotton is a genetically modified strain of cotton which has seen very widespread use in Pakistan. In 2008, before the requisite cotton technology was even commercially available in the country, an estimated 60% of cotton farmers were planting the strain. Seeds were available mainly as smuggled goods from India. Results produced by this early use were generally positive and indicated the potential that Bt cotton had as a tool to be used to reduce poverty in Pakistan. In 2008, estimates indicated that cotton yields were higher by 50 kilograms per acre for farmers who adopted Bt cotton. The modified strain was also shown to significantly increase household income among adopters.

Positive Effects of Bt cotton

The use of Bt cotton has continued and increased in the years since this early adoption. As more and more farmers have adopted this cotton as an alternative to continental cotton strains, the positive effects have remained consistent. Between 2015 and 2017, household income and profit were both shown to be higher among adopters of Bt cotton, and it still increases from year to yearThe positive effects of the cotton have demonstrated the potential for the reduction of poverty in Pakistan. Currently, small farmers benefit the most from the adoption of Bt cotton, relative to medium and large ones.

Still, small farmers face the largest barriers to adoption. They often lack the capital needed to adopt and implement new farming techniques and technologies. Increasing the availability of Bt cotton to those farmers who would most benefit from its adoption could prove a significant step in the bid to reduce poverty in Pakistan.

Haroun Siddiqui
Photo: Flickr

Combatting Period Poverty in PakistanPakistan, a country in South Asia, has the world’s fifth-largest population and spans more than 800,000 square kilometers. Pakistan has a long history of period poverty, stemming from its patriarchal hierarchy. Periods are shameful in Pakistan and often result in the ostracization of women in Pakistan.

Period Poverty in Pakistan

Period poverty is a severe issue around the world and is especially prevalent in Pakistan. A large part of the problem exists as a result of the many taboos that surround menstruation. In Pakistan, menstruation is seen as making women impure and dirty.

As a result, Pakistan’s culture as related to periods has prevented the population from educating women on menstruation and proper hygiene. As such, period poverty in Pakistan extends beyond just the financial discrepancies that hinder women from having access to proper menstrual products and extends into a “social period poverty” wherein women are deprived of education about menstruation.

Misinformation of Menstruation and Hygiene Practices

U-Report found that 49% of young women in Pakistan have little to no knowledge of periods before their first period. Likely, more than 20% of young women will only learn about menstruation in schools.

The myths that exist around menstruation actively disempower women. Part of the issue is that menstruation can often be a sign of good health in women. Menstruation taboos prevent women from realizing underlying symptoms of health conditions.

Period poverty in Pakistan also results in misinformation about menstruation. Part of this is because information about menstruation is often kept away from women. After all, it is believed withholding information preserves women’s chastity. This incorrect premise often results in unhygienic and dangerous practices for women. Many women use rags and share these rags and menstrual clothes with family members. Sharing of these rags can increase the risk of urinary infections and other health conditions.

Innovative Programs Fighting Period Poverty

Recently, many people have taken the initiative to work toward mitigating period poverty in Pakistan. One such tool has been apps like Girlythings, an app that allows women with disabilities to get period products delivered straight to their door. Their products include an “urgent kit,” which contains essentials such as disposable underwear, pads and bloodstain remover.

Another such tool to fight period poverty in Pakistan has been initiatives like the Menstrual Hygiene Innovation Challenge. This project, launched by UNICEF WASH and U-Report, plans to encourage young men and women to pitch their projects to educate their local communities on menstruation. One such project taken on by this challenge was a three-hour live chat. During this live chat, around 2500 people asked questions about menstruation. This live chat not only began to break down the taboos that surround openly discussing menstruation but also increases everyone’s knowledge and understanding of menstrual health.

Period poverty is a prevalent problem in Pakistan. Affecting women from both a financial and a societal point of view, people must begin to change the conversation around periods to ensure that all women in Pakistan can access menstruation information and menstrual products. However, by harnessing technology and taking initiatives, citizens all around Pakistan can work toward mitigating period poverty.

Anushka Somani
Photo: Flickr

The Belt and Road Initiative
Approximately 26.5 million out of 221.8 million Pakistani citizens live below the national poverty line, determined based on one’s ability to afford to consume 2,350 calories a day. Indigence is particularly widespread in rural areas, which houses almost two-thirds of the national population. Due to persistent fiscal deficits, Pakistan has failed to implement appropriate anti-poverty and welfare measures. Currently, Pakistan lacks an umbrella social protection institution, while state loan schemes exclude many rural inhabitants, whose economic activity is largely informal and temporary. However, the Belt and Road Initiative may provide support to Pakistan’s poor.

The Situation

Farming and animal husbandry remains indispensable to the country’s agrarian regions. However, while almost 40% of Pakistan’s labor force relies on other sources of income, rural development may not occur without industrialization and infrastructural advancements, which is essential to connect the locals with the neighboring urban areas. Luckily, the Belt and Road Initiative, launched in 2013 by the Chinese and the Pakistani authorities, has endeavored to facilitate these positive changes. The BRI or the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is the collective name for a plethora of Sino-Pakistani projects that primarily concentrate on infrastructure and energy, with an estimated budget of more than $62 billion.

Although the BRI is not the only major investment scheme operating in Pakistan, with the Asian Development Bank similarly funding road construction and having spent circa $14 billion on developing the country’s energy sector and rural communities, the former’s scale is unprecedented. Whether one could say the same about its impact on the Pakistani poor is equally important to establish, and now that the Belt and Road Initiative’s initial projects have come to fruition, it is possible to discern that.

Energy Sector Benefits

Within the first seven years of its existence, the Belt and Road Initiative resulted in the completion of 24 energy projects, which are worth $25.5 billion altogether. These include the erection of non-renewable power plants, namely coal stations in the Pakistani towns of Port Qasim and Sahiwal, as well as of solar and wind facilities. Thanks to this, where Pakistan’s annual GDP growth has been traditionally undermined by at least 2% owing to energy shortages, and where only half of the rural population had permanent access to electricity in 2018, the projects successfully replenished its national grid with 3,240 MW.

This was an 11% increase in its overall power capacity, and it helped stabilize the electricity supply to the indefeasible benefit of rural communities due to its diversification of the national energy resources. Furthermore, rural communities are expected to benefit from the construction of natural gas pipelines from Iran to the Pakistani provinces of Baluchistan and Sindh, whose rural poverty rates remain the highest in the country.

Infrastructure Benefits

Besides helping Pakistan attain energy self-sufficiency, the Belt and Road Initiative has invested $12 billion in constructing new roads and modernizing the local railway system. For example, Pakistan is currently building a 680-mile-long motorway linking its two major economic powerhouses, Karachi and Lahore. Moreover, the equally ambitious Karakorum Highway is connecting those cities to other Pakistani towns.

With faster, higher-quality roads accelerating cargo movement across Pakistan, the government determines farmers will face fewer hardships when transporting their produce to urban markets and city-based purveyors of important amenities will be able to improve their presence in rural areas. Additionally, the former will increase earnings, whereas the latter might encourage competition and bring down prices for basic goods, thereby making them more accessible to the rural public.

Other Economic Benefits

In 2019, China gave Pakistan $1 billion to cover the costs of 27 projects in education, agriculture and poverty alleviation. Most of these projects are concentrated in Southern Punjab and Baluchistan, which scored few points on the Human Development Index and correspondingly have many impoverished villages.

Analyzing the Belt and Road Initiative

Although Sino-Pakistani cooperation under the BRI has created more than 70,000 jobs in Pakistan and the World Bank believes that it could lift as many as 1.1 million Pakistanis out of poverty, it constitutes no silver bullet to the problem of domestic rural poverty.

On many occasions, the dire state of the country’s economy stifled project implementation, which suffered yet another balance of payments crisis in 2018, as well as by government bureaucracy. Thus, the construction of a power plant in Gwadar, a Pakistani port located in the province of Baluchistan and leased to Chinese companies, experienced a three-year delay, awaiting local government authorization.

Some have also questioned the Belt and Road Initiative’s socioeconomic inclusivity. According to the Sino-Pakistani agreement concerning the lease of Gwadar, the Pakistani economy will only receive 9% of the port’s revenues. An even smaller proportion of these funds will go to poverty alleviation programs. Moreover, the nation’s skilled wages have not registered significant growth, which suggests that many professionals still receive meager pay and struggle to cover their daily expenses.

The Belt and Road Initiative in Pakistan is hardly a finished enterprise. Although the majority of the so-called “early harvest” projects have reached fruition, many more are undergoing planning and construction. For this reason, we cannot conclude our evaluation of the BRI’s contribution to fighting rural poverty in Pakistan. Yet, since impoverished populations have benefited from the energy sector and job creation initiatives, this project may indeed prove helpful in alleviating poverty in Pakistan.

– Dan Mikhaylov
Photo: Flickr