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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

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

Barriers to Education

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

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

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

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

CARE Foundation: Improving Access to Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Thomas Gill
Photo: Flickr 

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

The Value of Rice in Pakistan and India

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

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

Rice Yield Challenges

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

Population Growth & Economic Contraction

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

Poverty in South Asia

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

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

Malnutrition Causes Infant Mortality

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

Rice as a Key Export

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

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

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

– Adrian Rufo
Photo: Flickr

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

Agriculture’s Success

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

Bt cotton and Poverty

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

Positive Effects of Bt cotton

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

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

Haroun Siddiqui
Photo: Flickr

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

Period Poverty in Pakistan

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

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

Misinformation of Menstruation and Hygiene Practices

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

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

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

Innovative Programs Fighting Period Poverty

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

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

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

Anushka Somani
Photo: Flickr

Diabetes in Pakistan

In 2019, Pakistan ranked sixth globally for the prevalence of diabetes. The recent increase in the prevalence of diabetes in Pakistan is associated with lifestyle changes. Citizens have been adapting their diets due to the industrialization and economic development within the country.

Diabetes in Pakistan

Obesity increases the likelihood of developing diabetes. Experts at the Pakistan Diabetes Leadership Forum in 2014 cited dietary changes that include consuming more saturated fats and less fiber as a cause of increased obesity and diabetes. Physical inactivity associated with economic changes in the country also contributes to the increased pervasiveness of diabetes. These diabetic risk factors decrease both insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.

Estimates believe that more than 6.7 million people in Pakistan have diabetes, which equates to 7.6% of the overall population. Despite its prevalence, diagnosis and treatment of diabetes in Pakistan is still limited. Only half of the estimated cases have been formally diagnosed and half of those diagnosed receive treatment. Recognizing the need for better, more accessible treatment options, organizations are combatting diabetes in Pakistan.

Diabetic’s Institute of Pakistan

Diabetic’s Institute of Pakistan (DIP) was founded in 1996. It has become the “leading organization for diabetes management, treatment, education and counseling” in the country. DIP focuses on three main aspects of fighting diabetes: prevention, treatment and management. To date, DIP has helped more than 100,000 patients.

The facility runs a diabetes awareness program and publishes educational materials in both English and Urdu. DIP also provides counseling and consultation services. The organization focuses heavily on psychological services due to its belief in emotional strength and the importance of “hope and happiness” for successful prevention and treatment of diabetes. Mental health services include an all-day helpline and counseling services that deal with stress and anger management. More traditional counseling is also available through DIP.

World Diabetes Foundation Project WDF15-947

The World Diabetes Foundation (WDF) started Project WDF15-947 to make diabetes treatment more widely accessible, especially focused on helping low-income individuals and areas. WDF supports three treatment clinics in Islamabad and Rawalpindi through training and education initiatives.

Between 2015 and 2018, WDF trained more than 300 nurses, doctors and paramedics in proper prevention, diagnostic and treatment practices in order to better serve the needs of the communities. In the same three years, nearly 13,000 screening tests were conducted. Individuals diagnosed with diabetes were referred to diabetes specialists for proper treatment. WDF also undertook an awareness campaign that included billboards, media programs for both TV and newspapers and the distribution of educational materials about diabetes in Pakistan.

The Diabetes Centre

The Diabetes Centre (TDC) is a nonprofit organization in Islamabad. It aims to improve access to diagnostic screenings and treatment for diabetes in Pakistan by providing these services for free to low-income individuals. The organization has 12 clinics that respond to specific complications of the disease, such as kidney, cardiac and eye care facilities. Since 2014, TDC treated almost 112,000 patients, of which only around 30% had to pay for treatment.

Diabetes in Pakistan remains an issue with low awareness and limited access to diagnosis and treatment services. However, these three organizations as well as many others, are working to increase educational initiatives and make treatments more accessible to combat diabetes.

Sydney Leiter
Photo: Flickr

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

The Situation

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

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

Energy Sector Benefits

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

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

Infrastructure Benefits

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

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

Other Economic Benefits

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

Analyzing the Belt and Road Initiative

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

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

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

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

– Dan Mikhaylov
Photo: Flickr

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