Poverty in PakistanPakistan, a country in South Asia, is part of the Indian subcontinent bordering India on the east side and Afghanistan on the west. Although Pakistan’s economy is growing at an exceptional rate, its population has not reaped much of the benefits of this economic growth. There are many factors to this uneven wealth distribution and high poverty rate. In order to understand the wealth gap and poverty situation, here are six facts about poverty in Pakistan.

6 Facts About Poverty in Pakistan

  1. The percentage of people under poverty in Pakistan in 2018 is 31.3%. According to the Business Recorder, the percentage of people under poverty in Pakistan is predicted to jump to 40%. By numerical standards, the poverty population will increase from 69 million to 87 million by the end of 2020. A value of 87 million is quite high in proportion to the country’s population of 212.2 million.
  2. In 2018, Pakistan suffered a macroeconomic crisis. The government had accrued a budget deficit of $18 billion by the end of 2018. As a result, this forced the government to limit its spending. The economic growth slowed significantly. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has further brought the economy to an almost standstill. This has forced the government of Pakistan to cut down on its spending. When a country’s economy shrinks, the government stops funding many welfare programs. Consequently, the people at the margins of poverty suffer, further increasing poverty in Pakistan.
  3. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the poverty-stricken citizens in Pakistan. These people consist of women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities. They are far more likely to suffer from malnutrition and their health may be weak. Thus, the virus tends to spread in poverty-stricken communities faster. The U.N. has recommended that Pakistan should increase its essential health services to people in poverty because of their weaker health status. In order to improve the economy, the U.N. also recommended that Pakistan should pass fiscal and financial stimuli. This can alleviate the debt and help many people in Pakistan financially. As a result, it may prevent the poverty rate from increasing or at least slow down the growth rate.
  4. The United Nations Development Programme has established a COVID-19 secretariat at Pakistan’s planning commission. Their mission is to help stabilize the economic crisis occurring in Pakistan. The planning commission will also provide social programs to help the citizens affected by COVID-19. However, their main focus is on providing social programs to residents living in poverty. The planning commission has succeeded in assisting Pakistan in its crisis management amid this pandemic.
  5. Many children in Pakistan take up low paying jobs in order to provide for themselves and their families. Many of these jobs are hazardous and dangerous. However, the children have no choice but to do them in order to receive any form of payment to feed themselves and their families. By 2018, Pakistan has made efforts to limit child labor and indentured servitude. Many of these laws are still ignored and dismissed by the citizens, mainly due to children who willingly work in order to alleviate their families from poverty and hunger. However, Pakistan has made moderate advancements in diminishing and banning hazardous forms of child labor for children.
  6. There is some good news in Pakistan’s fight against poverty. In 2015 Pakistan’s then prime minister Nawaz Sharif launched a healthcare scheme for the poor. The scheme has largely been a success since it has expanded. In 2019, the current prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan has stated that he envisions a future for Pakistan where it can be a welfare state similar to the Scandinavian countries. So far, his administration is working on furthering this vision by raising income taxes on the wealthy and instigating more welfare programs. In addition, the government is doing its best to continue fighting poverty and provide social programs and healthcare to the poor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The government will provide financial stimulus checks to its citizens ($70, or 11,717.89 Rupees). This program is called the “Ehsass Programme.” So far this modest social welfare program has helped many Pakistani families financially. Additionally, the government is planning more programs in order to help its citizens amid the pandemic.

Pakistan’s poverty rate has decreased in recent years. However, the country’s current economic crisis, mixed with its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, has put many Pakistani citizens out of jobs. This has further increased the poverty rate. The government of Pakistan is doing its best to fight both the COVID-19 pandemic and poverty in Pakistan. So far the government has provided many social welfare programs at a scale that they have never done in history until now. There is much more to do in order for the country to defeat poverty.

Sadat Tashin

Photo: Flickr

Education Inequality in Pakistan
Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country and home to over 221 million people, is trying to get girls the education they deserve. Education inequality in Pakistan exists primarily because of a lack of funding from the government, unsafe transportation, early marriage and poverty. Families living in poverty in Pakistan frequently choose between sending their children to school, hoping they get there safely, or buying household necessities. According to a 2018 Human Rights Watch article, “32% of primary school age girls are out of school in Pakistan, compared with 21% of boys.”

The Current Situation in Pakistan

Today, the youth population in Pakistan is larger than it has ever been. With 64% of individuals now under the age of 30, this new generation may be able to change Pakistan’s economy and education system, according to World Education News and Review. However, how can girls make a societal change when only 39% out of that age group, 2% of whom are female, have employment?

Women in Pakistan often do household chores such as cooking and taking care of the children while men in Pakistani culture are the breadwinners. Many in Pakistan see them as worthy of a proper education because they need those skills to create a prosperous life for their family. This adds to the gender and education inequality that exists in the patriarchal society of Pakistan.

For the girls who have the opportunity to go to school, they often face obstacles such as rape and discrimination. The gender-based violence present in Pakistan often occurs through child marriage, domestic abuse and maternal mortality rates. Many girls marry before they turn 18, and according to a 2018 article by TheirWorld, “In 2012 and 2013, 53.7% of married girls between 15 and 19 had never been to school.”

The gender discrimination that girls face in the educational system is an intergenerational problem. The United States has been working to aid Pakistan in furthering its educational system and obtaining education equality for girls.

Solutions

USAID aims to help girls in developing areas gain access to education, diminish the gender gap and keep girls in school when they are at high risk of dropping out. According to the Pakistan Alliance for Girls Education, 22.7% of children drop out of primary school. In an attempt to change those statistics, USAID has constructed and repaired 1,607 schools and awarded scholarships to 19,000 students in Pakistan in the past decade.

Education in Pakistan is often poor. School budgets are frequently low, infrastructure is improper and teachers are illegitimate. Change must begin on the inside, starting with the intentions of the Pakistani government.

In past years, Pakistan has fallen short when it comes to financing education. In 2000, Pakistan spent 1.8% of its gross domestic product on education. In 2017, Pakistan spent only 2.9% on education. According to the Pakistan Alliance for Girls Education, “The government has allocated Rs. 83.3 billion for Education Affairs and Services in the federal budget for 2020-21.” While there are plans in place to help Pakistan’s economy and promote education, some organizations are working on a more personal level.

Save the Children

Save the Children is an organization that strives to create a better future for children by providing aid to healthcare, education and disaster relief. In Pakistan, the organization’s goal is to raise awareness about girls rights, work towards gender equality and help improve the country’s education system.

“We want to help every child, each one is important but we know girls need more help breaking down those barriers,” said Save the Children’s Vice President of Public Policy and Advocating, Nora O’Connell, in an interview with The Borgen Project. Save the Children’s Choices, Voices, and Promises program aims to educate children about gender and social norms to move towards equality. The program intends to teach boys about the obstacles that their sisters and friends in order to create a supportive, less divided community. “In some cases we see boys helping their sisters with their chores so they have more time to focus on their school work,” said O’Connell.

Save the Children also has programs about sexual and reproductive health, teachers as role models and a mentor program. According to O’Connell, the mentor program is a great way for adolescent girls to stay in school when they are at risk of dropping out. Save the Children pairs girls with mentors who may have dropped out of school due to marriage or pregnancy, in order to show girls they are capable of moving past social barriers.

Through continued work, education inequality in Pakistan should become a part of the past. Everyone deserves the right to an equal and proper education no matter their gender. As the African proverb goes, “if you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”

– Jessica LaVopa
Photo: Flickr

SDG 1 in Pakistan
Pakistan has reached a 56.2% completion rate for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Although Pakistan ranks 134th out of 193 countries, recent years have seen several developments toward achieving SDG 1 in Pakistan. For instance, planned initiatives and anti-poverty legislation are creating a substantial and meaningful impact.

Poverty in Pakistan

According to the Sustainable Development Report, which is a global measure of countries’ progress toward the SDGs, the main indicators for SDG 1 are poverty headcount ratios of $1.90 per day and $3.20 per day. As of 2020, less than 1% of the population in Pakistan lives under the $1.90 per day poverty threshold. This figure not only places the country on track for the achievement of SDG 1 but it also represents distinct progress since 2011. During that year [2011] 9% of the population lived in extreme poverty.

Reaching the threshold of $3.20 per day remains a goal for the country. Approximately 20.7% of the current population lives under these poverty conditions. This, in turn, poses major challenges to the achievement of SDG 1 in Pakistan. Large portions of the country’s population remain vulnerable to the conditions of poverty. Notably, though, poverty rates in Pakistan have consistently declined throughout the past decade.

Recent Updates

Since the creation of the SDGs, Pakistan has taken key measures to achieve them. The country submitted its Voluntary National Review (VNR) in 2019. In this same vein, the country made the fulfillment of the SDGs by 2030 a national priority. There are now specific budget allocations, national monitoring of 46 indicators and stakeholder engagements in the country. All of these factors are clear indicators of SDG progress in Pakistan, even beyond SDG 1.

The current Pakistani government has created multiple pieces of legislation that align with SDG 1. The Balochistan Senior Citizens Act of 2017 made provisions for the well-being of senior citizens in Balochistan. Furthermore, the act implemented other financial and social measures to account for the aging population in Pakistan. The government also took steps to register and regulate charity funding through The Punjab Charities Act of 2018. These are just two examples of laws designed to help mitigate and eradicate poverty within the country. Parliamentary Task Forces have also been created to fill legislative gaps for each goal and keep track of SDG fulfillment.

Looking Ahead

The government of Pakistan has pledged to reduce poverty by 6% between now and 2023. Moreover, the government pledges to further develop social protection policies that align with SDG 1 and create a database that will “ensure better targeting of poverty reduction measures.” It also committed to increasing poverty alleviation expenditures and ensuring that vulnerable groups such as women, children and people with disabilities receive needed aid. As an example, the government currently fulfills this promise through the Ehsaas Emergency Program. This program enables organizations to deliver aid to people experiencing economic hardship due to COVID-19. With key stakeholders in the country now becoming champions of poverty eradication and committing to achieving SDG 1 in Pakistan, an end to unjust living conditions is now possible for many. While there is still much work remaining, the multi-dimensional efforts to reach this goal are promising.

Rachel Moloney
Photo: Flickr

remittances in PakistanThe global COVID-19 pandemic has sent many countries’ economies spiraling downward. Developing countries such as Pakistan have been hit especially hard due to poor infrastructure and social safety nets. However, one piece of encouraging economic news resulting from the pandemic is that remittances in Pakistan have increased to a record high.

Why Remittances Are Crucial to Developing Countries

In essence, remittances are sums of money sent back to a country from its citizens currently working abroad. For example, if a man in Pakistan leaves his family to work in Australia due to a better job market, he may send back sums of money to support his family still living in Pakistan. Remittances are vitally important for several reasons.

Firstly, the family still in Pakistan often relies on remittances to pay for essentials such as food and clean water, or other important services like sending children to school. These payments allow Pakistanis to increase their human capital, which refers to the amount of value a person can provide for the economy. Healthy, more educated people help an economy more than unhealthy, uneducated people. More human capital in turn improves the economic outlook for the country as a whole.

Furthermore, remittances are an important system that encourages migration and opens up the labor market for people seeking jobs. Educated people in Pakistan can view remittances as a form of insurance that their families will be taken care of, which makes them more likely to temporarily migrate to a different country with better job prospects. For those remaining in Pakistan, a smaller supply of local workers opens job opportunities and increases wages.

How COVID-19 Increased Remittances in Pakistan

In July 2020, remittances in Pakistan were the highest ever recorded for a single month. Pakistani citizens abroad sent $2.77 billion were sent back to Pakistan, an increase of 12.2% from June 2020. This number also represents an increase of 36.5% from July 2019. The countries from which most remittances in Pakistan came were Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the U.K. and the United States. Remittances for the year now stand at $21.8 billion. As a result, Prime Minister Imran Khan thanked workers abroad in a statement recognizing the immense value of remittances for Pakistan’s economy.

Analysts reason that the increase in remittances in Pakistan is primarily from far fewer pilgrimages to Mecca. Having spent less money on Hajj, workers abroad had more to send back to Pakistan. Additionally, canceled flights and reduced travel overall contributed to increased remittances. Another reason remittances increased is the rising efficiency of channels used for overseas workers to return their money. For example, Pakistan reduced the threshold for a formal money transfer from $200 to $100, allowing greater accessibility to transfers.

Ultimately, the increasing remittances in Pakistan represent exciting news for an economy otherwise devastated by the pandemic. Hopefully, news like this will continue to surface as the world discovers silver linings emerging from the pandemic.

– Evan Kuo
Photo: Flickr

Water Access in PakistanJust a few months after assuming office in 2018, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a dire declaration to his nation, pronouncing the water crisis to be the most pressing problem facing Pakistan today. Soon after, one team of Pakistani-American college students decided to launch the Paani Project to address the issue. Since then, the group has made astounding strides toward improving water access in Pakistan.

The Water Crisis in Pakistan

The Paani Project is addressing one of the most acute water crises in the world today. With a population of 212 million, poor water management, climate change and intensive agriculture, access to clean water can be scarce. An estimated 40% of deaths in the country are linked to unclean water.

Pakistan also has a shocking disparity in water access between its urban and rural areas. With up to 70% of rural regions having no access to clean water, millions in Pakistan’s more remote areas face a severe risk to their health and livelihoods.

Origins of the Paani Project

In order to combat this critical issue, four University of Michigan students decided to launch the Paani Project. The mission began on a local scale. For three months, on their way to class and around campus, the students would sell doughnuts, slowly collecting enough funds to build their first well in a rural region of Pakistan’s southeastern province of Sindh.

Since funding their first well, the team has put hours of effort, collaboration and organization into the project, creating a fully functioning nonprofit that has seen widespread success.

The Paani Project Impact

With over 850 wells built across rural areas as of 2020 and more than $300,000 donated, the Paani group has made an undeniable impact in improving water access in Pakistan. Their work has spread from Sindh to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, serving rural needs across the country.

In addition to building wells, the project has also diversified its mission by leading a number of different humanitarian efforts around the country. In Azad Kashmir, Paani led a winter coat drive and in Karachi, the group operated a dental clinic to provide care for those that would not have access otherwise.

The organization has also provided relief from the COVID-19 pandemic by providing food to thousands of workers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh who rely on daily wages to support their families.

Other Initiatives

Paani also believes that education is an important step in combatting poverty and increasing water access in Pakistan. With every well that has been built, Paani has held “hygiene education seminars” to teach community members about proper sanitation practices and how to maintain the well. The group has also helped develop education curriculums in Sindh, through which they hope to increase knowledge about the water crisis and proper hygiene practices.

Although Pakistan’s water crisis is one that continues to make headlines and threatens the lifestyles of millions of people across the country, work by organizations such as Paani has helped to turn the tide. With tens of thousands of people directly reaping the benefits of Paani’s wells, the group’s contributions are sure to be much more than just a drop in the bucket in the fight for universal water access in Pakistan.

Shayaan Subzwari
Photo: Flickr

innovative solutions Poverty in PakistanThe COVID-19 pandemic has led to a major healthcare crisis in Pakistan. It also reversed years of effort into the elimination of poverty. The poverty rate declined from 64% to 24% in 2015 which occurred over a period of 20 years. However, with the arrival of COVID-19, the poverty rate in Pakistan is predicted to increase to 40% according to the International Monetary Fund.

Pakistan’s GDP growth is also predicted to decline by 3% as a result of the pandemic. In addition, agriculture accounts for 20% of Pakistan’s GDP and 43% of its labor force. The continuation of lockdowns with no end in sight is negatively affecting transportation, labor and the consumer market. Consequently, it affects the millions of people working in the agriculture industry. Around 17 million children and youth are missing important vaccinations for diseases such as polio. Moreover, several million more people are suffering from food insecurity due to the pandemic, bringing the total to 43 million. Those most at risk are the people who live below the poverty line and groups such as women, children, senior citizens the disabled and minorities.

As more and more of these people fall below the poverty line, Pakistan is coming up with different innovative solutions that can cater to the millions of people that are experiencing multidimensional poverty.

3 Innovative Solutions to Reducing Poverty in Pakistan

  1. Ehsaas Program: The Pakistani government launched a scheme in 2019 known as the “Ehsaas Program.” With the coronavirus and lockdowns stifling the income of millions of daily wagers, the program quickly implemented a new project called the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program. Under this initiative, low-income Pakistanis can gain access to financial assistance through text messages. As of right now, the program is helping 12 million families throughout the country. It provides stipends of 12,000 PKR ($72) each which families are using to buy food rations.
  2. The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP): BISP is a federal scheme that launched back in 2008. Its purpose was to provide unconditional cash support to help alleviate struggling families living in poverty in Pakistan. It remains the largest support program in Pakistan. BISP distributed approximately 90 billion PKR ($542 million) to 5 million low-income Pakistanis. Additionally, the program uses tools such as its BISP debit cards to make cash transfers convenient. The program especially helps women and low-income Pakistanis from minority groups to gain access to financial assistance.
  3. Kamyab Jawan Program: Kamyab Jawan Program is the first of its kind in Pakistan. Launched by Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government, this program provides assistance and resources to youth on a national level. Through this platform, the country’s youth ages 15 to 29 will benefit from youth empowerment programs, loans for youth entrepreneurs and startups, youth legislations and youth councils. Through this program, Pakistani youth are finally being integrated into civil institutions and given opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty.

Abbas Raza
Photo: Flickr

immunization in pakistanDuring the COVID-19 pandemic, 63 polio cases were reported in Pakistan. Four months after the COVID-19 outbreak occurred in Pakistan, more than 50 million children did not receive a polio vaccination, as immunization in Pakistan was delayed. At the end of July 2020, Pakistan was able to complete a round of vaccinations to cover 780,000 children.

Vaccinations and COVID-19

On April 1, 2020, Pakistan went into a nationwide lockdown for a month due to COVID-19. During the lockdown, immunization in Pakistan reduced by more than 50%. This reduction occurred mainly in impoverished regions and areas that were far from service delivery.

Healthcare workers’ contracting COVID-19 led to a halt in immunization services in some areas. More than 150 Expanded Programme on Immunization healthcare workers contracted COVID-19. Additionally, shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) further reduced immunization, as healthcare workers were concerned about the risk of transmission while providing immunizations without proper PPE.

Transportation Interruptions Delay Immunization

Many immunizations in Pakistan were not delivered due to flight disruptions from COVID-19. Reduced immunization in Pakistan can lead to new outbreaks of other preventable diseases, like measles. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, an area with a large refugee population and limited healthcare access, has already seen an increase in measles cases.

The lack of public transportation available during the pandemic also made it difficult for many to travel to receive immunizations. People who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 were often afraid to go out in public and get immunized.

New mothers in particular were not willing to risk the travel to hospitals to get their children vaccinated. One new mother expressed her concern that the absence of vaccinations could lead to contracting preventable diseases, but she was also worried about the coronavirus. Furthermore, multiple private and public hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID-19 and did not allow babies and mothers to receive their immunizations.

WHO’s Restrictions Led to Vaccination Difficulties

After the World Health Organization advised countries to postpone their immunization campaigns, Pakistan halted its door-to-door polio immunization program. The postponement of mass vaccination programs may lead to 117 million children worldwide not receiving a measles vaccine. Countries that have low immunization rates are at the highest risk. Pakistan’s routine vaccination campaign for tuberculosis, for example, reached only 66% of its slated coverage this year, compared to 88% in 2019.

In Karachi, the Health Education and Literacy Programme (HELP) works to support maternal and child health and maximize vaccination coverage. Founder of HELP, Dr. D. S. Akram, said that the delay in immunization could lead to hundreds of thousands of young Pakistanis missing their tuberculosis and polio vaccines. On average, 12,000 to 15,000 children are born in Pakistan every day. Since polio is still endemic in Pakistan, the suspension of the door-to-door polio immunization program may lead to more outbreaks in the future.

Once Pakistan started to come out of its lockdown in May 2020, clinics began to reopen in an effort to continue vaccination campaigns. Pakistan faced two obstacles in attempting to increase routine vaccinations: both opening hospitals and ensuring that parents felt safe to bring their children there. Hospitals had to ensure not only that there were enough vaccinations in supply but also that parents would be willing to get their children immunized.

In Pakistan, children who belong to poor households are affected by vaccination coverage the most. The reduction of immunization in Pakistan has occurred mainly in slum areas, where it is difficult to deliver healthcare products. Despite the delay in immunization caused by COVID-19, Pakistan continues to adapt in its efforts to return to routine vaccination.

– Ann Ciancia
Photo: Flickr

10 billion treesWith Pakistan being one of the countries that environmental challenges most affect in the world, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan promised to be more proactive in combating the problem at the September 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York. Nearly one year later, it is fair to say that he is on track to fulfill this promise. His 2018 10 Billion Trees Tsunami Initiative aims to plant 10 billion new trees by 2023.

10 Billion Trees and Tiger Force Day

On Aug. 9th, 2020, Khan launched Tiger Force Day, the largest tree plantation drive in the country’s history. The goal of Tiger Force Day was to bring together Pakistanis to plant 3.5 million trees throughout the country as part of Khan’s 10 Billion Trees Tsunami initiative. According to Khan, this will save six districts in the country from transforming into inhabitable deserts by 2050 as a result of climate change in Pakistan. These districts include Hyderabad, Sukkur, Mirpur Khas, Lahore, Multan and Faisalabad. The 10 Billion Trees Tsunami initiative will also inhibit the spread of poverty. Planting trees can help increase honey and wheat production, mitigate floods, protect wildlife and plants from extreme weather. This would create 63,000 jobs during a critical time in which the global COVID-19 pandemic threatens 19 million jobs within the country.

Over 1 million volunteers participated in Tiger Force Day. This includes ordinary citizens like men, women and youth; members of Parliament and chief ministers; singers Ali Zafar and Ali Aftab Saeed and foreign diplomats like Chinese Ambassador Yao Jin and Yemen Ambassador Mohammed Motahar Alashabi. Throughout the day, these volunteers shared photographs of themselves planting trees as well as recording how many trees they planted at their location on the Corona Task Force application. This led the government to conclude that the country hit its goal of planting 3.5 million trees throughout the country on Tiger Force Day, making this achievement a major stepping stone in the 10 Billion Trees Tsunami initiative.

Plant for Pakistan Day

The incredible success of Tiger Force Day led Khan to declare August 18th as Plant for Pakistan Day. On this day, the government will encourage all citizens of Pakistan, including the armed forces, to harvest plants throughout the country. The World Health Organization will also give Pakistan $188 million for the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami and Recharge Pakistan initiatives, which aim to better utilize floodwater to recharge aquifers that had been used up as a result of unchecked water pumping and drilling. To ensure this money is readily available when needed, it will be kept in the National Disaster Risk Management Fund.

Moving Forward

Details about Tiger Force Day illustrate the incredible progress Khan has made, especially during the global COVID-19 pandemic, in bringing ordinary citizens, celebrities and national and foreign political officials together to fight against environmental difficulties in Pakistan through his 10 Billion Trees Tsunami initiative. This will inevitably inhibit the spread of poverty in Pakistan and inspire other countries to take a similar course of action, which will undoubtedly change the world for the better.

Rida Memon
Photo: Flickr

Zindagi Gulzar Hai
“Zindagi Gulzar Hai” is a popular Pakistani drama based on a book by Umera Ahmad. While the drama first aired on Hum TV in 2012, it is now available on YouTube and Netflix with English subtitles. Since then, the drama has captivated the hearts and minds of an international audience, winning one award after the next. While the drama is first and foremost a love story, what many fans fail to remember is that it provides great insight into poverty in Pakistan. This article aims to draw a comparison between the characters and the lives of millions of people in the country.

Plot Summary

The drama “Zindagi Gulzar Hai” depicts a love story between a lower-middle-class woman named Kashaf Murtaza and a wealthy Pakistani man named Zaroon Junaid. A single mother raised Kashaf and her two younger sisters. Their father abandoned them and remarried after their mother could not produce a male heir. This led Kashaf to distrust men from an incredibly early age, but it also gave her the incentive to receive an education and become self-dependent like her mother.

When she grew older, Kashaf received a scholarship to a prestigious university where she met a man from a wealthy Pakistani family named Zaroon. She instantly grew to dislike him due to his flirtatious and jealous nature once Kashaf outperformed him on several occasions. While Zaroon did not like her at first, he began to see wife-like qualities within her and eventually convinced her to marry him. As the drama progresses, it is clear that there are many differences between his wealthy lifestyle and her lower-middle-class background. Not only do these differences communicate the coexistence of two alternative realities in Pakistan, but they also reveal the challenges that millions of people face in the country today. Here are four aspects that the story reveals about poverty in Pakistan.

4 Aspects that “Zindagi Gulzar Hai” Reveals About Poverty in Pakistan

  1. Polygamy: In the drama, Kashaf’s father married twice because his first wife could not produce a son. While polygamy is not common in Pakistan, it is legal as long as a man obtains permission from his first wife. However, many women, especially in rural areas, do not know that their husband’s second marriage is conditional on their approval. Others fear acting against their husbands because they are economically dependent on them and because of the stigma surrounding divorce in Pakistani culture. This makes the practice problematic.
  2. Education: When Kashaf entered a prestigious university, her father insisted that her mother focus on getting their daughters married instead of having them receive an education. Unfortunately, his mindset is not uncommon in Pakistan. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 22.5 million children are not in school within the country. This includes one-third of primary school-aged girls and about 87% of girls in grade nine. Not only does this problem disproportionately affect females, but it also makes Pakistan one of the worst-performing countries with respect to education.
  3. Lack of Clean Water: When Zaroon visited Kashaf’s home soon after their marriage, the water stopped running while he was washing his face. This reflects how Pakistan is one of 36 countries in the midst of a water crisis. Currently, there are less than 1,000 cubic meters of annual water availability for every person within the country. About 80% of those living in 24 major Pakistani cities do not have access to clean water. One can say the same for 16 million people living in the slums of Karachi. This is due to an increase in population, environmental challenges, mismanagement of water systems in the agricultural sector and the overpriced cost of the water that water trucks provide. If resources within the country continue to decline at this rate, the country will be scarce of water by 2025.
  4. Electricity: When Zaroon spends his first night in Kashaf’s home, the electricity goes out. While Kashaf and her family are used to living without air conditioning in Pakistan’s heated climate, it is clear that Zaroon is not. Approximately 25,000 megawatts of electricity are necessary for Pakistan, and the need increases by more than 5% each year. However, the government has only been able to supply 20,000 megawatts of electricity so far. This has left millions of Pakistanis without electricity at any given time.

The drama “Zindagi Gulzar Hai” highlights the challenges that millions of people face as a result of poverty in Pakistan. This will inevitably spread awareness about the problem, instigate much-needed conversations and inspire the world to take action.

– Rida Memon
Photo: Flickr

Low-income pakistanis
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a major healthcare crisis in Pakistan and reversed years of efforts to eliminate poverty. The pandemic has also disproportionately affected low-income Pakistanis. The poverty rate in Pakistan declined from 64% to 24% in 2015 — after 20 years of progress. However, with the arrival of COVID-19, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that the poverty rate will increase to 40%, reversing years of progress.

Who is Most Vulnerable?

The IMF also expects Pakistan’s GDP growth slow by 3% as a result of the pandemic. Agriculture accounts for 20% of Pakistan’s GDP and 43% of its labor force. The continuation of lockdowns with no end in sight is negatively affecting transportation, labor and the consumer market — which in turn, affects the millions of people working in the agriculture industry.

Children and youth amounting to 17 million are missing important vaccinations for diseases such as polio. Moreover, the pandemic has increased the number of people that suffer from food insecurity by several million, bringing up the total to 43 million. Those most at risk are the people that already exist below the poverty line including women, children, senior citizens, the disabled and minorities.

As more and more of these people fall below the poverty line, Pakistan is coming up with different digital solutions that can cater to the millions of people experiencing multidimensional poverty. Here are three digital solutions helping low-income Pakistanis.

3 Digital Tools Helping Low-income Pakistanis

  1.  The Ehsaas Program is a Pakistani government-launched scheme in 2019, to fight the nation’s prevailing poverty levels. With the coronavirus and lockdowns stifling the income of millions of daily wagers — the program quickly implemented a new project known as the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program. Under this program, low-income Pakistanis can gain access to financial assistance through text messaging. As of right now, the program is helping 12 million families throughout the country — providing stipends of 12,000 PKR each, which families are using to buy food rations.
  2. The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) is a federal scheme launched in 2008. Its purpose was to provide unconditional cash support to help alleviate struggling families living in poverty, in Pakistan. It remains the largest support program in Pakistan — distributing approximately 90 billion PKR to 5 million low-income Pakistanis. The program uses tools such as its BISP debit cards to make cash transfers convenient. The program notably helps women and low-income Pakistanis from minority groups gain access to financial assistance.
  3. The Kamyab Jawan Program is the first of its kind in Pakistan. Launched by Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government, it is a program to provide assistance and resources to youth, on a national level. This platform provides opportunities to the country’s youth, ages 15–29. Some of the schemes that are under the Kamyab Jawan Program include youth empowerment programs, loans for youth entrepreneurs and startups, youth legislations as well as youth councils. Through this program, Pakistani youth are finally experiencing integration into civil institutions and capturing opportunities designed to lift them out of poverty.

A Need for Non-Digital Solutions

Collectively, these digital solutions, as well as other solutions implemented by NGOs and separate companies, help many low-income Pakistanis gain access to the necessary resources and assistance they require. This assistance enables low-income Pakistanis to help themselves, specifically during this time of need. However, Pakistan cannot solely rely on digital solutions to combat their poverty crisis. Many of its population do not have access to the necessary digital devices to access these solutions. People who lack internet access, as well as computers and smartphones, are at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to accessing these digital resources. Therefore, Pakistan must also look toward digital-alternative solutions for people who are not able to access these digital ones.

Abbas Raza
Photo: Flickr