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

Tech Startups Help PakistanPakistani tech startups are growing at an unprecedented rate. Every year, the country has an output of more than 20,000 graduates who are trained in the field of information technology (IT). Since 2010, there have been 700 tech startups and around 70% of the startups are still operational as of 2020. The Pakistani economy reaps the benefits of the booming industry. One example that shows the importance this sector can have for the Pakistani economy is WhatsApp. WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton developed WhatsApp and Facebook bought it for $19 billion. The price of the acquisition exceeds the defense budget of Pakistan almost three times over. Tech startups help Pakistan by encouraging economic growth.

The Success of Tech Startups

Many successful tech startups are helping Pakistan because the startups have developed useful apps. For example, the Patari app is a streaming provider for music lovers and was able to obtain $200,000 worth of seed funding in 2017. Eatoye is another app that has had much success in Pakistan. Eatoye provides food delivery, catching the interest of the food portal FoodPanda, which acquired the app. Similar apps have been particularly successful in Pakistan’s domestic market. However, tech startups have found success in the international market as well. Tech startups that focus on IT have succeeded in exporting software. These software exports have made a total of $700 million, but Pakistani IT experts believe that the number is much higher. When taking into account the amount of freelance work, software exports could bring in as much as $2.5 billion.

Tech Startups in Pakistan

Pakistan has several tech startups that currently provide valuable services to its people. Zameen.com was founded in 2006 and is extremely well-funded and informative. Zameen.com allows people to make financial decisions regarding properties in major Pakistani cities. This includes investing, buying, selling or renting. The valuation of the startup is around $80 million, showcasing its popularity. Another startup called Airlift has been extremely useful for commuters. Airlift allows commuters to book luxurious buses to get to their destinations, which is extremely useful for many middle-class Pakistani workers. These examples are just two of many tech startups that are helping Pakistan.

Pakistan Reaps the Rewards

Tech startups can be beneficial to the economy of a nation for many reasons. One way is through the creation of goods and services at a high growth output rate, which older companies usually cannot match. Additionally, tech startups often tap into new markets or can reform old ones. However, startups are most beneficial to the economy because they contribute to the creation of jobs in a country. Startups create more opportunities for employment since they can add to job creation at a rate of 25% or more.

Pakistan’s unemployment rate was expected to rise to 6.65 million Pakistani people between 2020 and 2021. Tech startups help Pakistan by improving the economy of the nation and by aiding in job creation to accommodate a growing number of people without jobs. The beneficiaries of an improved economy will be the people of Pakistan.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Honor-Based Violence
In 2020, family members murdered two women after a video from the previous year surfaced online of the women kissing a man. This murder is just one of 5,000 “honor-based” killings that happen every year. Girls as young as 15 have died just for helping neighbors elope. Here is some information about honor-based violence.

What is Honor-Based Violence?

Honor killings are one type of honor-based violence. Honor-based violence is any violence that occurs with the purpose of restoring the honor of a family or community, and thus, the victim’s family members or community members usually commit it. Violence, in this case, includes any physical or psychological attack. The most common forms of honor-based violence are acid assaults, genital mutilation, forced marriage and murder. Girls or women typically face the most honor-based violence, but men can be targets as well.

Honor-based violence frequently occurs due to the desire for female purity. The practice stems from cultural ideologies that women belong to men or are a symbol of their family’s honor.

Traditionally, some cultures consider men “guardians of female value,” and therefore, experience dishonor if a woman becomes worthless by destroying her virtue. A woman can experience condemnation for ruining her “value” even if she suffers rape or assault.

History and Statistics of Honor-Based Violence

The practice of honor killings dates back to ancient Babylon, connecting to tribal traditions of burying baby girls alive. Although honor killings have undergone justification in the name of Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, the practice does not have any basis in religion. On the contrary, religious leaders frequently condemn this violence.

Estimates have determined that about 1,100 people die in honor killings per year in Pakistan. This is only slightly more than in India, which is about 1,000 people. While Pakistan and India record the most honor killings, they are not the only places where these murders happen. Records of honor killings exist in the U.K., the U.S., Sweden, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey and Uganda. Many places do not document honor killings or record them under other types of violence. Therefore, it is hard to know exactly how many honor killings occur and where they happen.

Activists and Artists

While thousands of honor killings happen each year, many activists have been working to change the culture. For one, they are trying to end the legal and colloquial use of the phrase “honor killing” and instead make sure people use the word murder.

Activists and artists throughout the world have made documentaries about honor killings. In 2016, journalist and activist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar for her film “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.” The movie follows the story of Saba, a young woman from Pakistan who survived an attempted murder against her after she married without her family’s permission.

The film was so influential that the Pakistani Prime Minister vowed to change the laws surrounding honor killings. In fact, that same year, the government passed the Anti-Honor Killing Bill. The bill states that families can no longer pardon people who murder their family members due to “honor.” Before the enactment of this bill, a family could forgive someone for murdering their family member out of honor. In such a case, the murderer would not receive a charge or penalty.

Obaid-Chinoy is not the only one who has created influential documentaries. In 2021, filmmaker Safyah Usmani worked with MTV and Obaid-Chinoy on her documentary “A Life Too Short,” which follows the life of Pakastani star, Qandeel Baloch, and her death by her brother. While many well-known documentaries have emerged in Pakistan, it is not the only country that features in these films. ITV aired a documentary in 2020 about the murder of a London woman, Banaz Mahmod.

Honour-Based Violence Awareness Network

In addition to films, activists have collected resources to help teach people about the tradition. One such project is the Honour-Based Violence Awareness Network that “intends to advise professionals in how to identify and provide an effective response to these forms of violence, and to provide links to [organizations] with expertise in providing help to people at risk.” Founded by activists Deeyah and Joanne Payton, the website provides training and other informational resources for anyone interested in learning more about honor-based violence.

With films and advocacy groups, awareness about honor-based violence has increased. Increased awareness of the issue, along with an increased pressure to cease such harmful patriarchal practices, will hopefully continue to include policy change.

Sophie Shippe
Photo: Flickr

Mobile Government
Worldwide, more people have access to mobile phones than to proper sanitation. As crazy as it sounds, mobile phone access can be advantageous. The International Telecommunication Union estimates that out of the 7 billion people on earth, around 6.5 billion have access to a mobile phone. As of 2018, 100% of the population in low- and middle-income countries had access to mobile phones, whereas 55% of the population in low-income countries owned a mobile phone. The pervasiveness of mobile technology can help build expansive government networks. Mobile Government (mGov) could provide citizens and businesses with extended benefits and stir up overall economic growth.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, several countries with pre-established digital governments have launched public services that people can access via mobile phones. The introduction of these online services could be a blessing for developing countries, where the communication between the government and the residents is almost nonexistent.

What is a Mobile Government (mGov)?

Mobile Government is a government-led platform that uses mobile technology to increase active participation in government operations while offering several government services and applications that individuals can access electronically. It provides quick and easy access to integrated data and location-based services and helps to empower citizens. Here are different ways Mobile Government can make a positive impact.

Increased Financial Inclusion

As per World Bank reports, by 2018, the number of people holding bank accounts shrank from 2.5 billion to 1.2 billion in just seven years. As a result, less than 50% of the adult population did not have a link to traditional banking systems. Therefore, to increase the financial inclusion of the citizens, governments all across the globe are undertaking initiatives to encourage and support the development of financial technologies.

In India, Jio, an Indian telecommunications company, in collaboration with the government, stirred a socio-economic revolution by providing subsidized 4G service to more than 200 million subscribers in under two years. Likewise, the mobile currency has transformed the Kenyan economy. More than three-fourths of the population have gained access to mobile wallets (M-Pesa) and can participate in financial transactions.

Similarly, online services can be useful in distributing money among the poor since only a small fraction have operational bank accounts. About 1.2 billion users across 95 countries use mobile money. Many countries use mobile payment services to provide monetary assistance through Government-to-person (G2P) payment systems.

In Bangladesh, the government is providing 5 million families with economic support by transferring money online, ensuring that families have a stable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The usage of mobile has helped reduce corruption dramatically, improve access to financial services and boost participation in economic activities.

Better Access to Essential Services

Mobiles have made access to health, education, agriculture and other services trouble-free for the general public. In the same way, mobile phones are going toward addressing serious health problems. Increased communication can bring awareness about safe drinking water, birth control, maternal health and malnutrition amongst many others.

Globally, 774 million people are unable to read or write. Out of that group, 123 million are youth. One can frequently trace illiteracy to a lack of books. Studies have revealed a positive correlation between high illiteracy rates and a shortage of books. The majority of people in sub-Saharan African do not have access to books and the schools in the region rarely do anything about it. As a solution, several developing countries have replaced physical texts with online books, allowing a larger proportion to access books. For instance, educators in schools in countries like Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria and Pakistan read stories to the children from mobile phones.

Mobile phones can also combat dengue fever in Pakistan. Sanitary workers use smartphones to send geo-tagged images of swamps to the central health experts. Afterward, health experts monitor the images.

The agriculture sector in Ethiopia and Uganda also utilizes mobile phones in a significant way. It employs mobile phones to deliver early alerts on droughts, food shortages, pests and weather-related calamities.

Enables Social Accountability

The governments in developing countries are using mobile technology to promote the use of SMS texts to enhance social accountability among the citizens. A study that took place in 46 African countries unearthed a correlation between high mobile penetration and low corruption rates.

In several developing countries, citizens receive encouragement to notify their governments of any matters that require addressing. In Pakistan, the Director-General of the Passport Office sends a message to the visitors inquiring about any bribery encounters or any other issues.

Mobile Government can be a powerful tool, useful in extending access to existing services, developing further innovative, inclusive services and increasing citizen participation in all realms of the public sector. Mobiles can dynamically foster civic engagement, facilitate transparent democracy, reform the outdated educational systems and create advanced healthcare infrastructure in developing countries. The use of mobile technology can tackle the growing digital divide between low-income and high-income countries. Hopefully, this will uplift the economies and literacy rates in developing countries.

– Prathamesh Mantri
Photo: Flickr

Youth Workforce
Pakistan is looking to bridge the skills gap between Pakistan’s youth workforce and the upcoming demands of its rising technology and automation markets. Structural change is necessary for Pakistan as the growing youth population faces challenges such as a rising unemployment rate and socioeconomic and gender disparities that keep students out of the classroom. In 2020, youth in Pakistan faced an unemployment rate as high as 8.5%; today, approximately 44% of children and teenagers are out of school. With 64% of the population younger than 30, Pakistan has more young people than ever who have the power to revolutionize its workforce by becoming re-skilled in relevant and desirable industries.

Pakistan’s Fourth Industrial Revolution

Pakistan is ushering in its fourth industrial revolution with a big challenge to overcome: enrolling more youth in schools where they can begin working with technology at an early age. This is especially critical as countries are growing increasingly dependent on online learning and employment during the worldwide COVID-19 crisis.

Pakistan’s rising investments in automation, e-commerce, digital payment systems and more requires the youth workforce to keep pace with new technologies. Such growth poses many new opportunities for the nation, including modernizing technology and making tasks such as digital banking and online learning easier.

According to Parwaaz, a reskilling initiative that the World Economic Forum supports, the top 10 skills of 2025 include:

  • Technology Use & Monitoring
  • Technology Design
  • Critical Thinking & Analysis
  • Active Learning & Learning Strategies
  • Reasoning, Problem Solving & Ideation
  • Analytical Thinking & Innovation
  • Resilience & Stress Tolerance
  • Complex Problem Solving
  • Leadership & Social Influence
  • Creativity & Originality

These skills can take the Pakistani youth beyond their current capabilities by smoothing their transition into the workforce while giving existing employees opportunities for career advancement.

A Multistakeholder Approach to Success

Pakistan’s largest skills development fund, the Punjab Skills and Development Fund (PSDF), is partnering with the World Economic Forum to join the “Reskilling Revolution.” According to Managing Director Saadia Zahidi, the goal of the revolution is to bring better work, skills and education to over 1 billion people by 2030. Challenges to reskilling include high costs, disconnects between training and relevant skills and few private training opportunities. However, with the launch of Parwaaz, a more structured form of reskilling is underway.

A multi-stakeholder public and private skills training initiative, Parwaaz has pinpointed six sectors that require trained workers in order to accommodate future market demands. These sectors include:

  • ICT
  • Financial Services
  • Textile
  • Hospitality
  • Retail and Services
  • Manufacturing & Light Engineering
  • Agriculture & Livestock

Parwaaz is expecting to change the core skills of 40% of workers in the country, raise the rate of automation from 33% in 2020 to 47% by 2025 and give two out of three employers returns on human capital investment. It plans to achieve this by creating incubators that will train 1,000 young people by June 2021 in market-relevant skills. Parwaaz will continue to function with financial and policy support from the Pakistani government and support from other stakeholders such as educational institutions and industry experts.

Integrating Pakistan’s youth workforce into new, more advanced markets is a nationwide effort that will result in high-performing companies, skilled employees, increased innovation and a stable structure for the future. Ultimately, investments in technology, automation and the growing youth workforce will lead to a brighter future for everyone while helping lift vulnerable populations of poverty.

Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

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