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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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