Global Education
More than 420 million people would be able to escape poverty if everyone around the world attended primary and secondary education, cutting global poverty numbers in half, UNESCO estimated in a 2017 analysis. If all children in low-income countries learned to read, 171 million people would rise out of extreme poverty. While achieving high-quality universal education might seem like a lofty goal, simply giving parents more information about their children’s education has proven to be a straightforward yet effective method of improving global education outcomes.

Report Cards Improve Test Performance

One 2017 study that the American Economic Review published examined the effect of school report cards on educational outcomes in Pakistan. Pakistan is a lower-middle-income country where only 58% of people aged 15 and older can read and write. By the end of third grade, not even a third of students can write a correct sentence. For the study, the researchers, who consisted of two American professors and one World Bank researcher, randomly chose the students of 56 Pakistani towns to receive report cards while students in 56 other towns did not receive report cards. This study delivered two-page report cards to the families of children in selected towns. The report cards contained the child’s test scores, information about their child’s performance relative to other students and information about the performance of the child’s school.

To test the effect of the report cards, the researchers compared standardized test scores at the time of the report card to scores on the same tests a year later. The researchers found that, in towns where parents had received report cards, students’ scores increased 42% more than students’ scores in towns where parents had not received report cards. In addition to improving performance on standard tests, the report cards also led to a 4.5% increase in elementary school enrolment and a 17% decrease in private school costs. The researchers suspect that these improvements are due to increased parent engagement with education due to receiving the report cards. Despite the notable impact of this intervention, the total cost of creating and distributing report cards was only $1 per student.

Attendance Reports Prevent Dropouts

In 2018, the World Bank published a study on the efficacy of different techniques for improving school attendance. The World Bank conducted its research in Mozambique, a low-income African Country where the literacy rate is only 60.7%. Fewer than one in five children in Mozambique attend secondary education and just 33.2% complete primary education. One of the techniques the researchers tested for improving school attendance rates was creating attendance reports for parents.

The researchers included 2,793 participants from 173 schools in their study. All the participants were girls in fifth and sixth grade at the start of the study. Study participants placed in the group with attendance reports would get a sheet indicating which days they had attended school to give their parents at the end of each week. To measure the effect of these attendance reports, observers would randomly check in on schools to see if the students participating in the study were present that day.

After three years of data collection, the researchers concluded that the weekly attendance reports did increase school attendance. For students who received attendance reports, attendance increased by 6.9% compared to students who did not receive an attendance report. The researchers also found that these attendance reports were just as effective at increasing attendance as a monetary incentive offered to parents.

Applying the Science

More than 600 million children around the world are unable to gain basic reading and math skills, UNICEF reported. While many of these children lack access to education, approximately two-thirds of them are in school and still are unable to gain a baseline education. Education access encompasses not only access to education but access to effective education. Research indicates that taking simple steps to improve parent information about schools by giving parents report cards about their child’s and school’s performance or giving them attendance reports contributes toward improving global education outcomes. Providing 600 million children with quality education will doubtlessly be a challenging task but, as this research indicates, simply providing parents more information about their child’s education could be a meaningful yet simple and low-cost part of the solution.

– Anna Inghram
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

the-cost-of-childhood-why-child-marriage-in-pakistan-persistsQubra, a 13-year-old Pakistani girl, was forced to become a child bride because of “her father’s beliefs.” In an interview with VOA News, she revealed, “My father believed that it was sinful for a daughter to remain unwedded once she reached puberty.” According to data from a 2017-2018 survey, 18% of Pakistani girls got married before the age of 18 and 4% before the age of 15. Child marriage in Pakistan continues to persist due to tradition and cultural practices.

Driving Forces Behind Child Marriage

According to UNICEF, in 2018, Pakistan ranked sixth in the world for the highest child marriage rates. The driving causes of child marriage in Pakistan are customs and traditions, poor living conditions, gender norms and lack of education and awareness.

Poverty. One of the key drivers of child marriage in Pakistan is poverty. The Asian Development Bank estimated in 2018 that the number of people in Pakistan living below the poverty line stood at 21.9%. In a study published in 2020 by Girls Not Brides, findings in Punjab revealed that low-income households are more likely to marry their daughters off earlier than well-off households. Rural areas are also more likely to practice child marriages and do so due to the belief that marriage eases a family’s economic burdens.

Customs. Social norms also stand as a key factor, with cultural and religious traditions both playing an equally significant part. Pakistani society considers females the family honor and marrying them early helps preserve this honor. This holds particular weight if young girls have experienced some sort of sexual assault or engaged in premarital sex. According to Islam, marriage is obligatory and different factions argue that early marriage for girls is mandatory as a religious practice. Because of the prevalence of such norms, child marriage deeply embeds itself into the social fabric of Pakistani society.

Lack of Education. According to the World Bank, the literacy rate of females 15 and older in Pakistan stood at 46% in 2019. Many girls do not receive a full education because their parents force them to drop out of school early to marry and do housework. This lack of education means girls have no decision-making powers and are often unaware of their legal rights.

Facts About Child Marriage in Pakistan

Child marriage can have an adverse impact on the future of young girls. Child marriage makes girls more likely to drop out of school and increases the risk of domestic violence and abuse. In addition, child brides face higher chances of at-risk pregnancies and complications during childbirth because their bodies have not fully developed. Child marriage also reduces a female’s independence and ability to have a say in important decisions.

A report by the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) in 2017 estimates that incidences of child marriage will bring about “trillions of dollars” in costs for developing nations. The same study highlights that “ending child marriage in Pakistan could see a 13% rise in earnings and productivity for Pakistani women.”

Steps to Address Child Marriage in Pakistan

Child marriage is a difficult topic to address in Pakistan for many reasons: First, there is extreme institutionalization of social and religious norms. In addition, many provincial laws do not align with national law, and laws, in general, are very poorly enforced. Furthermore, Pakistani courts apply Sharia Law, which says that postpubescent girls can enter into marriage.

Regardless, progress is visible. According to Girls Not Brides, Pakistan agreed to end all marriages under 18 by 2030 in order to achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. In 2019, the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that it established a National Consultation on Child Marriage with the support of key human rights groups.

Civil society has played a huge role since 2013 by pushing for stricter marriage laws and working with both law enforcement agencies and religious scholars to tackle this issue at the local level. Organizations like the Malala Fund are working to increase access to education for young girls to combat child marriage, while others, like Girls Not Brides, specifically focus on the issue of child marriages and advocates against it.

Future Action Required

Despite progress, the government and organizations must still take further action to reduce the prevalence of child marriage. Any program or movement that seeks to eradicate child marriage needs to work with institutions, law enforcement, religious leaders and families to change attitudes as well as laws. Such a multidimensional approach is the only way to reduce child marriage in Pakistan.

Umaima Munir
Photo: Flickr

Nuclear Energy In Developing CountriesIn early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a rapid drop in energy demand, laying the foundation for an energy crisis. This foundation was strengthened by the 2020 Russia-Saudi Arabia Oil Price War and cemented by the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, culminating in the collapse of the global oil trade, starting the energy crisis. The energy crisis has hit developing countries the hardest, as developing countries are more reliant on non-renewable sources of energy. As a result, renewable sources of energy, such as nuclear power, are gaining popularity in developing countries as a way to provide energy beyond the methods hurt by the energy crisis. However, nuclear energy in developing countries is still in its infancy. Here are some facts regarding the future of nuclear energy in developing countries.

4 Facts About Nuclear Energy in Developing Countries

  1. Countries Can Form New Partnerships. The most commonly used source of nuclear energy in developing countries, uranium, is not found in every country. By creating nuclear power plants based on uranium, many developing countries give off the impression to nations unaligned with them that they are looking to enter into new trade deals. This was the case in Pakistan in March 2021, when it completed a nuclear power plant with the help of China. This cooperation led to a new trade agreement between Pakistan and China that allowed for a greater exchange of minerals such as those necessary to help build the power plant.
  2. Protection Against Natural Disasters. Out of the 10 deadliest natural disasters in 2021, most of them occurred in developing countries. The threat of a natural disaster is a leading cause of anti-nuclear sentiments, as damage to a power plant could cause tens of thousands to have to evacuate and potentially kill thousands of people. However, through new thorium-based reactors, it is almost impossible to cause a meltdown in a modern nuclear power plant. This is because new reactors make use of a liquid form of thorium that relies on a plutonium battery to produce energy. If a natural disaster were to occur, the thorium could be drained away from the plutonium battery, preventing a meltdown and saving the lives of thousands of people in developing countries.
  3. Defense Against Terrorism. In many developing countries, terrorists pose a major threat to the energy industry. This is evident how in 2019, the Houthi destroyed an oil facility in Saudi Arabia, impacting the production of 5 million barrels per day, according to The Guardian. However, because of new isolation-based reactors, nuclear power plants do not face the same threat. This is because thorium is not a weaponizable material, since its fission doesn’t produce plutonium, which is one of the elements that nuclear weapons use.
  4. Removing the Reliance on Fossil Fuels. Due to an already established reliance on coal, oil, or other fossil fuels, it might be difficult for a developing country with a fossil fuel-based energy system to transition to nuclear-based energy. Despite this, investing in nuclear power has benefits in the long run, even if a developing country has a reliance on fossil fuels. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) projects that by 2050, nuclear energy “could contribute about 12% of global electricity.”

Looking Forward

While nuclear energy may have a slow start in many developing countries, it certainly has a promising future. For instance, in March 2022, Nigeria committed itself to construct a power plant, which could provide energy to millions of impoverished Nigerians.

Along with that, in 2021, Bangladesh began construction of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant with the primary purpose of solving Bangladesh’s longstanding energy problem.

There are certainly hurdles to developing nuclear energy in developing countries. However, as seen in Nigeria and Bangladesh, it is definitely possible to establish nuclear energy within developing countries. As these countries transition away from fossil fuels and into renewables such as nuclear energy, they could be providing a stable source of energy to tens of millions of impoverished people that could live a life with energy without the threat of global disruptions.

– Humzah Ahmad
Photo: Flickr

Polio in Pakistan
Polio, for many in the United States today, is not much more than a history lesson. Whether it is former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s battle with the disease or the innovations of Dr. Jonas Salk in his creation of a vaccine, the illness tends to only touch most people through books and movies, or when a newborn is vaccinated. Over the last few decades, much of the rest of the world has shared in these triumphs. It is still present in the human population and though outbreaks are diminishing, they do occur. After experiencing significant progress throughout 2021 and for some time into 2022, there are new cases of polio in Pakistan.

What the Outbreak Looks Like

While most people will clear the polio virus without experiencing serious issues, its debilitating symptoms can leave victims with brain and spinal cord injuries. Polio will cause meningitis in around one out of 25 people infected and paralysis in one out of 200. Furthermore, adults who have previously recovered can develop post-polio syndrome which presents itself as new muscle pain or paralysis later in life.

For centuries, people lived with the fear of disability from this disease. Since the advent of vaccinations, the vast majority of nations have eradicated polio. Pakistan, along with its neighbor Afghanistan, has been slower to share in this progress. These two countries are the last where polio is still considered an endemic disease, meaning that it is constantly spreading.

Cases have been diminishing for a long time, however. For example, the incidence of paralysis from polio in Pakistan fell from around 20,000 in the early 1990s to just 84 in 2020. The country recently experienced a hiatus in polio detection that lasted from January 2021 until April 2022 when the diagnosis of polio in a baby boy in the North Waziristan district interrupted the progress, The Guardian reports. Eleven children in Pakistan have been diagnosed with the illness since.

Why is Polio Resurging in Pakistan?

Polio continues to cause outbreaks in Pakistan for much of the same reason that other diseases as many in the population do not have immunity against it. Polio vaccines have proven to be highly effective on the individual level and can create herd immunity when around 80-85% of the population receives a vaccine.

Reaching the level of vaccine coverage that herd immunity from polio requires is difficult because of the misinformation surrounding vaccines in Pakistan. Due to vaccine hesitancy, some parents in Pakistan have obtained fake vaccine markings or simply refused inoculation. Even when they do follow through on receiving a vaccine, mistrust is still high. In 2019, more than 25,000 students asked for hospitalization after unsubstantiated claims of adverse vaccine reactions spread in northwest Pakistan.

Mistrust is not just an endogenous problem. The actions of foreign entities have also caused harm to Pakistan’s health system. In 2011, the CIA ran a fake vaccination program, which collected blood samples of children in an attempt to track down Osama bin Laden by finding his relatives. Oxford University Press article demonstrates that news of the CIA’s campaign not only led to a drop in vaccine uptake between 23% and 39% but also empowered extremist groups.

These groups have engaged in violence against vaccination workers that carry on to this day. Most recently, on June 28, 2022, a gunman killed a polio worker and two policemen involved in vaccination.

What Are the Solutions?

While imperfect, things are far from grim in the fight against polio in Pakistan. As noted earlier, the incidence has plummeted in the last few decades. Much of this is due to vaccine drives from a number of sources including the government and international organizations.

Since the 1990s, the Pakistani government has partnered with the Pakistan Polio Eradication Initiative (PPEI), a group that a consortium of international organizations funded, to create the annual National Emergency Action Plan (NEAP). These plans have demonstrated success through various initiatives to immunize populations via vaccination programs, disease surveillance and outreach.

Under part of its plan, hundreds of thousands of vaccinators go door-to-door offering immunizations to children below the age of 5. Another method these groups have employed to keep spread in check is regular wastewater inspections. This gives public health officials a better idea of disease prevalence and where it is spreading. Finally, to counter much of the misinformation and hesitancy, the plan calls for partnerships with civil society and religious leaders to mainstream the use of vaccines.

Though most countries technically eradicated polio, Pakistan is not alone in the recurrence of it. In 2022, cases have occurred in 30 countries across Africa, Europe and the Middle East. In June 2022, the United Kingdom detected the disease in London’s wastewater. With a polio vaccination rate of 86% in London, a significant part of the population is susceptible to infection demonstrating the danger that festering diseases, such as polio, pose to people all around the world.

– Joey Harris
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

HIV/AIDS in Pakistan
In 2004, an outbreak of HIV/AIDS in Pakistan caused a skyrocketing number of cases in the country. As of 2020, there are an estimated 180,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Pakistan. However, the vast majority of HIV-registered Pakistanis are receiving treatment and local organizations are making progress to expand treatment to the most vulnerable and stop the progression of the outbreak altogether.

The HIV Outbreak in Pakistan

The 2004 HIV outbreak in the country followed a pattern common in Asian countries, in which the disease grows exponentially within networks of people who inject drugs, before reaching a plateau. Once the disease reaches a plateau, the disease begins to spread to the general population.

About 38% of Pakistani people who inject drugs are HIV positive as of 2017. The common practice of sharing and reusing needles and other drug-injection equipment can explain this. Needles contaminated with HIV-positive blood easily spread the virus among communities struggling with substance use disorder in Pakistan.

There is also an interesting local phenomenon in Pakistan where injection drug users are not able to inject their own drugs. Instead, these individuals utilize “street injectors” who inject the drugs for them. The injectors use a method of injection known as double-pumping, in which blood goes into the needle. As payment for their services, after injecting the individual, injectors keep a portion of the drug solution mixed with blood. The injector then pools it for their own use or for sale to others.

The Spread of HIV Throughout Pakistan

Through practices like these, HIV became extremely prevalent within this highly marginalized group. Once the percentage of HIV-infected injection drug users plateaued, the virus spread throughout Pakistan through bridging populations — people in close proximity to those in the high-risk group, such as the spouses of men who inject drugs. A study published in 2021 in the Harm Reduction journal estimated that, in Pakistan, 8.5% of female spouses of men who inject drugs are HIV positive.

Another population key to the progression of the outbreak is truck drivers. Many truck drivers frequently engage in purchasing sex, which puts them at higher risk of contracting HIV. Due to their mobility across the country, truck drivers who contract HIV/AIDS in Pakistan present a risk of a far-reaching and fast spread of the virus.

Progress and Solutions

Identifying at-risk populations and HIV-positive individuals is an important part of stemming the tide of an outbreak. However, the organization Nai Zindagi believes that society should not blame or stigmatize these individuals, but should help them instead. The organization started in 1989 as a small residential drug treatment center in Lahore, Pakistan.

Over the years Nai Zindagi shifted to focusing on street-based people who inject drugs across the whole of Pakistan and came to have a reputation for working with these populations. In 1999, UNAIDS and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime contracted Nai Zindagi to study “Hepatitis C and HIV among the growing numbers of street-based persons injecting drugs in Lahore.” Through the study, Nai Zindagi became aware of the increasing use of drugs via injections. At the time, the study noted no positive cases of HIV, but it was clear that HIV would spread rapidly once the first case came about within this group. This created a shift in the organization’s response to drug use, with a new emphasis on harm reduction, including reducing the spread of HIV.

Nai Zindagi’s Services

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to address an HIV outbreak, a country must diagnose, treat, prevent and respond quickly to each case of the disease. Nai Zindagi provides services in each of these aspects, focusing on marginalized, impoverished people who use drugs and those close to them, such as spouses.

Nai Zindagi specializes in assisting street-based individuals, utilizing mobile treatment vans and testing machines to accommodate those who are experiencing homelessness in Pakistan. The organization provides testing services, counseling, treatment and referrals to clinics that specialize in HIV/AIDS in Pakistan.

It also provides outreach services and training to spread the word about dangerous behaviors such as the use of used or dirty needles. Nai Zindagi even provides syringe exchange services, with the aim of distributing clean needles to those most at risk of contracting HIV. Harm reduction services like these are clinically proven to reduce the risk of diseases spread through injectable drugs.

With the work of organizations like Nai Zindagi, those at risk of HIV are less likely to contract it and those living with HIV/AIDS in Pakistan will have access to treatment that lengthens and improves their lives.

– Grace Ramsey
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Pakistan
A gender-based violence crisis in Pakistan is depriving millions of women in Pakistan of legal protection and leaving them fearful for their rights and livelihood. According to the Women, Peace and Security Index, Pakistan is ranked 167th out of 170 countries in terms of women’s health and wellbeing. In recent years, women in Pakistan have been engaging in protests to speak out against inequality and violence and demanding action from the government to improve women’s rights in Pakistan.

Domestic and Economic Abuses

Women in Pakistan suffer an alarmingly high rate of domestic violence. The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) estimates that 28% of women in Pakistan face some kind of physical violence in their lives before the age of 50. Because of the constant threat of violence against women, many women have to labor as domestic workers and often receive little to no wages as a result.

Women account for 49% of the Pakistani population but receive only 18% of its labor income, according to the USIP. The Pakistani government often denies legal protection and social security to women of low social classes, particularly home-based workers. The crisis of women’s rights in Pakistan is especially evident in environments like education and health care, where women cannot access social protections and face threats of violence.

In 2018, the U.N. reported that only 48.6% of Pakistani women had their reproductive health care needs satisfied by the resources available to them.

Because of these inequalities and injustices against women, women in Pakistan are more likely to live in poverty than men, while also carrying the burden of domestic work. Gender-based discrimination in education forces women at a social disadvantage. In 2021, the USIP found that women had a 22% lower literacy rate than men.

The relationship between social disadvantages, threats of violence and poverty is a vicious cycle for the women living in Pakistan. Because they experience discrimination in education and face threats of violence from men in power, they have to labor domestically and receive low wages, which keeps them in poverty.

Government and International Initiatives

The good news is that global organizations like the United Nations are not ignoring the crisis of women’s rights in Pakistan. In 2017, the U.N. initiated a three-year project called ‘The Economic Empowerment of Women Home-Based Workers and Excluded Groups in Pakistan.” The purpose of the initiative was to allow women, home-based workers, to effectively contribute to and benefit the economy of Pakistan.

This initiative benefited the private sector, the state, the women of Pakistan and the organization of the United Nations. Additionally, in 2020, the Pakistani Government passed an anti-rape ordinance that promised harsh punishments for those who commit sex crimes. This ordinance offers a higher degree of protection and security for women facing domestic violence.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pakistani government has made small but essential improvements for victims of domestic violence including shelters, psychological support and national helplines. In 2021, USAID assisted the Pakistani government in providing counseling services to about 61,000 female survivors of domestic violence, improving the system of maternal health care and training public defenders on how to protect women’s rights in Pakistan under law.

Women Speaking Out

Women in Pakistan have not been silent in recent years about the injustices against them. In 2018, Pakistani women held the Aurat March on International Women’s Day. Thousands of women rallied across Pakistan to demand an end to the gender-based violence that has been sweeping Pakistan for decades, USIP reported. The march became an annual tradition and women have gathered to collectively use their voices and fight against gender and class-based oppression for the most recent four International Women’s Days.

These marches ensure that the public hears the voices and demands of the oppressed women in Pakistan. However, they also present an escalated threat of violence against women from the Taliban. Pakistan’s Taliban criticized the march, accusing it of being a “western agenda.”

The fight for women’s rights in Pakistan is not over and is making significant improvements year by year despite worrying reactions from the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistani women have organizations like the United Nations and the United States Institute of Peace fighting for social, political and economic justice. Equity and gender equality are necessary for Pakistan’s long-term development as a democracy, as well as its fight against violent extremism.

– Ella DeVries
Photo: Flickr

Pakistan Cuts Fuel and Energy Subsidies
Pakistan is cutting fuel and energy subsidies that the recently ousted PM Imran Khan instituted. These cuts have come at the request of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as they do not align with an agreement that occurred in 2019 wherein the country would receive necessary bailout funds to help its struggling economy.

The IMF’s Role in Subsidy Cuts

The IMF claims the fuel and energy subsidies did not receive proper funding and therefore were creating an even larger financial burden for the already struggling country. Former PM Imran Khan initially instituted the subsidies in February 2022. They were successful in lowering the price of fuel while also causing the government to take on an estimated potential debt of 260 billion rupees ($1.289 billion).

Although it was a tough political decision to make, the newly instituted Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced that the government would be ending the subsidies and that fuel prices would sharply increase. If PM Sharif had not cut the fuel and energy subsidies, the country would have lost out on billions in necessary bailout funds from the IMF. Pakistan finds itself in a dire economic situation with its funding gap, which American bank Morgan Stanley speculated to be near $8 billion. A gap that substantial means these funds are absolutely necessary to keep the country afloat economically and stable politically.

Economic Impact

Inflation rates have hit double digits while the country faces a default on its debt without the IMF’s bailout funds. With respect to the potential default, the cutting of fuel and energy subsidies appears to be absolutely necessary. However, PM Sharif’s administration still hesitated at the decision due to the potential loss in political capital and the further financial burden it will place on Pakistanis across the country. The rupee declined in value by a whopping 7% in the month of May, the largest decrease since March 2020, according to Al Jazeera. The rise in inflation has put a lot of stress on a country already struggling with 21.9% of the population living below the national poverty line as of 2018.

Just a week prior to the announcement of the subsidy cuts the country had already raised fuel prices by 20% as the first step after a meeting with the IMF in Doha. The prices then increased a further 17% after the fuel and energy subsidy cuts to a price of 209.86 Pakistani rupees ($1.06) per liter of petrol. As fuel prices rise, so will inflation rates, exacerbating the dire economic situation in the short term. Yet, the cuts are absolutely necessary for Pakistan’s long-term outlook. Without the fuel and energy subsidy cuts, Pakistan would default on its debt essentially throwing it into economic chaos. The IMF’s bailout funds offer the country a little more time to figure out how to curb inflation rates and reassess its fuel price crisis.

Political Unrest

The current political turmoil enveloping the country made PM Sharif’s decision to cut the fuel and energy subsidies even more difficult. Pakistan only ousted former PM Khan from power in April 2022 after a vote of no confidence in the Pakistani parliament. Currently, the country’s parliamentary elections will not occur until 2023. That has not stopped PM Khan from gathering his supporters with claims that the Parliament wrongly removed him from power. In late May, he even led his supporters to the capitol building in Islamabad where a conflict with police broke out.

Many political strategists within Pakistan feared that if Pakistan cuts fuel and energy subsidies, it could exacerbate the current economic situation and further motivate former PM Khan and his supporters to push for a new election. Despite Pakistan’s recent financial and political turmoil, the hope is that the newly installed government’s cooperation with the IMF will help stabilize the country.

– Devin Welsh
Photo: Unsplash

Poverty in Jacobabad
For people within Jacobabad, a city in the Sindh province of Pakistan, May 2022 marks the peak of the latest heat wave. By May 16, 2022, the temperature in the city reached 51 degrees Celsius (123.8 Fahrenheit). The city’s water canals, which are essential for irrigating farms in order to grow crops for food, have dried as a result of the heat waves. Dr. Ammad Ullah from the Jacobabad MS civil hospital told the Guardian that an “estimated that 50 to 60 people are getting heat stroke every day.” This could push more citizens into poverty in a city where “most of the million people” living there are already in poverty. According to the 2018-19 Household Integrated Economic Survey (HIES), almost 22% of Pakistan’s population lives in poverty. Despite the dire situation in Jacobabad, efforts are underway to combat the extreme heat wave and poverty in Jacobabad. The Pakistani government is taking steps to address the environmental crisis in Jacobabad and the country at large to prevent an increase in poverty.

How Heat Waves Increase Poverty in Jacobabad

The very high temperatures experienced by the people of Jacobabad in May 2022 pushed them further into poverty. For example, citizens in Jacobabad acknowledge that work and school are proven pathways out of poverty. However, the heat waves have made working and schooling difficult with children fainting during class and workers on the edge of vomiting during work. In this way, the extreme heat wave and poverty in Jacobabad impact the livelihoods of locals and the futures of children.

The Pakistani Government’s Efforts

The Pakistani government is attempting to mitigate the extreme heat wave and poverty in Jacobabad by pursuing environmental solutions. On May 17, 2022, Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s climate change minister, said that the government has formed a national task force to lead “disaster management efforts” to keep the temperatures low. During this time, the government responded by promptly setting up 1,000 heat wave centers in the Sindh and Punjab provinces. Aside from saving lives, the heat wave centers will allow citizens to return to school and their jobs, which, in turn, will reduce poverty in Jacobabad.

On May 30, 2022, Rehman met with the country director of the World Bank, Najy Benhassine, to discuss the current World Bank projects in Pakistan. The World Bank’s climate initiatives are particularly important in Pakistan, considering the impacts of the heat wave in Pakistan’s city of Jacobabad. On the topic of large projects in Pakistan in general, Rehman encourages a “move toward a more sound water strategy in Pakistan” and “an effort to move from pilot projects [that] look good on paper toward the scaling up of outcomes.” Rehman also highlights a need for public awareness campaigns in Pakistan so that more people understand the severity of extreme weather conditions.

Looking Ahead

The situation in Jacobabad is severe due to the heat wave’s impacts on poverty and food security along with its consequences on health, education and jobs. However, the attention Jacobabad receives from international media and humanitarian organizations illustrates a strong will to assist Jacobabad’s people. The Pakistani government also responded quickly by setting up heat waves centers and implementing disaster management efforts. This shows the determination on the part of Pakistani leaders to address the situation in Jacobabad and bring down the poverty rate despite the immense challenges the nation faces.

– Abdullah Dowaihy
Photo: Pixabay

Heat wave in Pakistan
Since late April 2022, Pakistan has been suffering from an unprecedented heat wave with temperatures touching 50 C (122 F). Although heat waves in Pakistan have been a common occurrence since 2015, these climatic conditions are touching the country earlier each year and their intensity and duration are increasing due to extreme weather patterns. This meteorological phenomenon severely affects the Pakistani people in several ways, from health issues to food, water and infrastructural crises. With temperatures standing at 6-9 C higher than usual for this time of year, the heat wave in Pakistan is affecting cities and rural areas and has lethal effects on children and the elderly.

Consequences on Health

The heat wave in Pakistan is threatening the health of the Pakistani people, especially the most vulnerable groups. With the unusual increase in temperatures, on May 14, 2022, the country already declared three deaths among children due to the severe heat.

The country observed cases of children collapsing under the sun. The poverty in which many regions and families live in Pakistan forces children to often walk to school amid this unbearable heat. Also, many schools do not have proper climatization to allow the students to attend their classes in a cool environment.

To address the effects of the heat wave on people’s health, an NGO opened a heatstroke clinic in Jacobabad and noted rising cases of heatstroke patients. Heatstroke occurs when the body overheats and cannot cool itself anymore, leading to several symptoms ranging from headaches and nausea to more serious effects such as organ swelling and unconsciousness. Despite this, students continue to go to school with the hope of escaping poverty and moving toward a better quality of life. Besides children, the extreme weather affects laborers who spend their days under the sun, but unfortunately, have no alternative if they want to earn enough money to survive.

Food and Water Crisis

Other consequences of the heat wave in Pakistan are food and water scarcity. With very high temperatures and insufficient water, the crop and food supply are in danger. The heat wave in Pakistan also affects livestock that are essential to the food supply of the country —  many sheep have died from heatstroke in Punjab, a province that stands as the breadbasket of Pakistan.

The water crisis is a critical aspect of the heat wave in Pakistan. As government-installed taps are mostly dried out, people find it very difficult to find drinking water. Unfortunately, mafias are benefiting from this situation by exploiting government water reserves and reselling them to those in impoverished and underserved regions.

The lack of access to sufficient water supplies is thus a primary cause of the health issues people endure and makes the heat wave even more unbearable. Furthermore, with a power shortage that only allows for six hours of daily electricity in the county’s rural areas, citizens struggle to cope with the heat.

Ironically, excess water can also harm many people. Pakistan is “home to more than 7,000 glaciers,” the melting of which can lead to the overflowing of lakes and rivers and cause “torrents of ice, rock and water” to destroy the infrastructure of a city. This already happened once this year, in early May, causing the destruction of a bridge.

Taking Action

Given the urgency of the situation, two NGOs are playing an essential role in helping people to survive the heat wave in Pakistan. Both are mainly located in the Sindh province, one of the areas that the extreme weather situation most affected. The first NGO is the Community Development Foundation, which opened a new health center dedicated to victims of heatstroke.

The Pakistan Red Crescent, in collaboration with the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, launched a 10-day training for officials and civil society representatives to learn how to adequately respond to “heat-related emergencies,” such as heatstroke, unconsciousness and dehydration as well as the transportation of patients suffering from any of these issues. The Pakistan Red Crescent also promised to continue with similar training in the future, especially with the younger generation.

The case of Pakistan shows that despite all the crises and challenges a population living under extreme weather patterns must face, support from organizations can make all the difference. By training people to respond to health emergencies, the Pakistan Red Crescent diminishes the pressure on health care professionals and increases the chances of people surviving heat-related health conditions. Despite these severe conditions, children continue to go to school with the hope of receiving an education that will enable them to rise out of poverty.

– Youssef Yazbek
Photo: Unsplash

Education Initiatives in Pakistan
Pakistan, a country of 220 million people, currently holds the “world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children,” according to UNICEF, equating to about 22.8 million children. Some factors that contribute to this high out-of-school rate are gender inequality, socioeconomic status and location of residency. USAID and UNICEF have implemented several education initiatives in Pakistan in recent years to help address the education crisis.

Pakistan’s Education Overview

According to a  study by Pak Alliance for Maths and Science based on data from the  Pakistan Social and Living Measurements Standards survey 2019-20 (PSLM), 32% of Pakistan’s children from age 5 to 16 years old are not in school. There are many reasons for this, such as gender norms, which assert that females’ sole roles should involve household chores and caregiving. Poverty also plays a role as many impoverished families simply cannot afford to send their children to school. Area of residency also factors in —  children who live in rural areas, such as the province of Balochistan, do not have access to a school within walking distance.

In addition to these factors, Pakistan’s education system faces several barriers that intensify the difficulty of completing a full education,  such as deteriorating school facilities that lack proper sanitation and electricity. In addition, underqualified teaching staff, widespread corruption and thousands of staff who do not show up for work leave children unable to receive a proper education.

USAID Initiatives

USAID has partnered with Pakistan’s government to increase access to education, especially for out-of-school children, and improve the quality of education in Pakistan overall. Given that the quality of teachers significantly impacts students’ education, USAID prioritizes the training of educators. In partnership with Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission, USAID established “two professional teaching degree programs.”

USAID has also provided training to educators “on how to teach reading” to students using appealing and age-appropriate materials in local languages. USAID has also created libraries in thousands of Pakistani classrooms to encourage literacy. Since 2013, USAID has given training to “more than 46,000 teachers and school administrators.” USAID also prioritizes developing education policies that cater to “local needs,” which will ultimately improve community involvement and enrollment in schools.

Since its education partnership with Pakistan in 2013, USAID has constructed “17 faculties of education” for teacher training and “built or repaired more than 1,600 schools” throughout Pakistan. USAID’s assistance has benefited more than 2 million primary school students in Pakistan and “improved oral reading fluency for 26% of grade-two graduate students.” USAID also gave around 19,000 scholarships to outstanding students so they can “attend tertiary education.”

UNICEF Initiatives

Since 2016, UNICEF has committed to reducing the number of out-of-school children in Pakistan. The organization is helping to strengthen Pakistan’s Early Childhood Education (ECE) systems “to improve school readiness,” reduce dropout rates and encourage school completion. Children from impoverished and vulnerable communities will see the most benefits from these efforts.

UNICEF has committed to promoting educational awareness to parents about “early learning, the importance of on-time enrolment and the lack of social protection schemes,” which will help break down barriers to students completing their education. Lastly, UNICEF’s education initiatives in Pakistan promote discussions on the Pakistani government’s “education budgeting and public financing” to highlight areas in need of improvement that can help strengthen Pakistan’s education sector as a whole.

Looking Ahead

These initiatives are essential to improve Pakistan’s poverty rate, which stands at 39.3% as of 2021 because education is a proven path out of poverty. According to the Global Partnership for Education, 420 million people would rise out of poverty through secondary education and “one additional year of school can increase a woman’s earnings by up to 20%.”

The education initiatives in Pakistan have already begun to address the education crisis and will continue to do so in the coming years. These efforts will encourage more enrollments and give way to higher school completion rates despite the socio-economic disparities that many impoverished children face, which will ultimately reveal itself through economic growth in the nation and a broader job market.

– Isabella Elmasry
Photo: Flickr