Disability and Poverty in Pakistan
Disability and poverty in Pakistan are interconnected. According to the Department for International Development, “poverty is both a cause and consequence of disability.” By exploring the links between disability and poverty in Pakistan, governments and organizations can develop solutions to address the root cause of the issue. Several organizations are working to improve the lives of people with disabilities in Pakistan.

Poverty in Pakistan

The World Bank says Pakistan has seen significantly reduced poverty rates over the past 20 years. In particular, the “expansion of off-farm economic opportunities and the increase in migration and associated remittances allowed [more than] 47 million Pakistanis to escape poverty between 2001 and 2018.”

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), in 2018, 21.9% of the Pakistani population lived under the poverty line. However, the recent catastrophic and unprecedented floods have affected more than 33 million people in the country and an estimated 9 million more people are at risk of facing poverty due to the impacts of the floods, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reported in January 2023.

Disability in Pakistan

According to Rooted in Rights, the estimated number of disabled individuals in Pakistan is 30 million. Despite this large population, the stigma surrounding disabilities means people with disabilities face inequalities, marginalization and ostracism.

It is imperative to voice and provide the views of the less fortunate and disabled and this starts by acknowledging that there is a strong connection between disability and poverty. People with disabilities are more likely to fall into poverty due to higher medical costs associated with their disability and a lack of inclusive education opportunities.

Individuals who are impoverished are also at risk of developing disabilities due to inadequate access to health care to address a health issue before it becomes an untreatable disability.

It is also difficult for people with disabilities to find work because of their limitations. According to the United Nations, “in developing countries, 80% to 90% of persons with disabilities of working age are unemployed, whereas in industrialized countries the figure is between 50% and 70%.”

The Work of NOWPDP

Beginning its work in 2008, NOWPDP, a leading disability organization in Pakistan, holds a vision to “ensure each and every person with a disability has equal access to opportunities, awareness about their rights and benefits, and is in fact, an integral part of the society.” Through several programs, the organization aims to empower people with disabilities so that they may live productive and fulfilling lives.

The initiatives aim to promote financial, education and employment inclusion for all people with disabilities, among other efforts. For instance, NOWPDP runs the 100 DAYS 100 LIVES campaign, which provides businesses with the opportunity to play an active role in disability inclusion in Pakistan by providing employment opportunities for 100 individuals with disabilities in Karachi for 100 days per year.

Looking Ahead

Dissolving the common misconception that the disabled are not as capable as the able-bodied is extremely important in the fight to promote disability inclusion in Pakistan. By acknowledging the connection between disability and poverty in Pakistan, the Pakistani government can look toward establishing comprehensive policies to empower people with disabilities and allow them to live a better quality of life.

– Nimra Nasur Mir
Photo: Flickr

Houses in Pakistan
An NGO based in South Africa, Spiritual Chords, is supplying bamboo houses in Pakistan that can withstand natural disasters as the previous architecture was vulnerable to destruction from flooding and earthquakes. In terms of climate vulnerability, in 2019, the Inform Risk Index ranked Pakistan 18 out of 191 countries, equating to a very high disaster risk level.

Spiritual Chords

Spiritual Chords is an organization founded for the sole purpose of assisting those affected adversely by natural disasters. Its main focus is on South Africa but it aids inhabitants of struggling countries across the world. Sustainable development is important to the organization’s mission and is at the core of each project it fosters. Therefore, Spiritual Chords makes changes in progressive ways utilizing readily available resources meant to last generations.

Goals and Programs

Spiritual Chords has developed a variety of programs to meet the needs of people affected by natural disasters living in countries with a lack of resources. It recognizes the importance of education in the development of a country’s wealth, and therefore, runs many projects centered around improving the education of underprivileged children. It also aids members of communities with health care and emergency relief directly following a natural disaster. In addition to these activities, Spiritual Chords helps to advance the development of clean water resources, sanitation, housing and community initiatives.

Flooding in Pakistan

Pakistan stands as an example of the impacts of natural disasters on an already struggling country. In 2011, Pakistan suffered from disastrous flooding. This flooding demolished housing, destroyed resources and exacerbated existing conditions of poverty. In 2011, 36.3% of the population in Pakistan lived under the national poverty line.

UNICEF reported that the flooding impacted close to 5.06 million Pakistani people and led to the destruction of 460,000 homes in Pakistan, resulting in mass displacement in affected areas. Because of this, Pakistan required outside aid to help people meet their needs for safe drinking water, food and shelter. Although it has been years since the 2011 floods, the effects still linger. Because Pakistan is highly susceptible to annual natural disasters, it is integral to build lasting housing that can withstand the effects of flooding.

Spiritual Chords’ Work in Pakistan

Recognizing this need, Spiritual Chords began the work of rebuilding houses in Pakistan in 2013. With the help of Yasmin Lari, the first female architect in Pakistan, Spiritual Chords developed a concept design. It focused on using bamboo because structures built with this material can withstand flooding. In Pakistan, in the aftermath of flooding, water damage destroyed mud brick structures, however, structures built with bamboo faced minimal harm. The design was simple yet effective and development began shortly after. In the years since, Spiritual Chords has assisted in the installation of handpumps, wells, non-electric stoves and toilets.

A recent collaboration between the Pakistani government and internal NGOs has sparked a newfound interest in this project. Safeeyaah Moosa, the founder of Spiritual Chords, told Outlook India in January 2023 that these new developments “have the potential of making 5,000 houses a month.” This work will continue to benefit Pakistan’s inhabitants for generations.

Looking Ahead

Spiritual Chords’ mission is to aid those struggling as a result of natural disasters and it accomplishes this by implementing positive programming. The programs focus on issues including housing, water/sanitation, health care, community building and education. In Pakistan, a country suffering from the long-term effects of flooding, Spiritual Chords provided materials to build sustainable bamboo houses in Pakistan. Because this architecture is meant to withstand the effects of flooding, it will be a long-term solution for the inhabitants of the country.

– Hailey Dooley
Photo: Flickr

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

Digital Payment System in Pakistan
Pakistan has a primarily cash-based economy that thriving illegal markets and low government revenue plagues. A new digital payment system in Pakistan could change this. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the Pakistani government worked in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to launch this brand new digital cash transfer system. Additional support came from the United Nations, the World Bank and the United Kingdom.

This new digital payment system called Raast or “direct way” can instantly transfer money between two entities. Although the idea is not new and there are several other financial transaction systems on the market, Raast is the first one that received sponsorship from the Pakistani government, linking financial institutions and government entities. The government’s main goals are to make money transfers more transparent and thereby reduce corruption, increase government revenue and create a more inclusive economy.

Increased Transparency, Tax Revenue and a Less Corrupt Economy

A payment system such as Raast records every transaction in real-time and establishes a log of payments. This allows users to keep track of their transfers, and since the information is visible to all involved parties, users can report complaints or mistakes much more easily. When the Pakistani government and its citizens use Raast, it makes it possible for citizens to receive their pensions, salaries or other payments from the government much more quickly. The increased efficiency and transparency also supports small businesses and other micro-enterprises. Instead of paying cash or sending checks through the mail, they can instantly pay suppliers and distributors. This makes running a business more efficient, reliable, accessible and less prone to corruption.

The new digital payment system in Pakistan also makes it easier for the government to collect taxes by using the technology to track how much people owe and when they made payments. In 2019, the World Bank reported that Pakistan’s government collected half of what, theoretically, it should have been able to take based on its economy. Tax evasion is widespread, but it is also complicated and timely to file taxes in Pakistan. The World Bank found that there are many individuals and companies that would like to file taxes, but do not because of the time and money the process requires.

A More Inclusive Economy

In 2018, the Global Findex reported that only 7% of women age 15 and older had a bank account, and of the most economically disadvantaged 40% (men and women), 14.2% had an account. Particularly during the pandemic, it has been difficult for these underserved groups to receive government support without a bank account. Raast has the potential to serve vulnerable groups because it does not require people to travel to a physical bank, and is cheaper and easier for individuals to set up than a traditional bank account. In a report about payment systems, the World Bank stated that “secure, affordable, and accessible payment systems and services help expand financial inclusion, foster development and support financial stability.” However, without proper implementation, an endeavor such as this digital payment system in Pakistan could fall short of its goal.

In a statement at the launch, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA) Queen Máxima, discussed how important it is for all banks and service providers to adopt the new technology and to encourage individuals to use it instead of cash. If enough people and institutions use the program, it will reach its accessibility potential and spur economic growth. As Queen Máxima stated in her keynote address, the hope for this new digital payment system in Pakistan is above all to create a more digital and accessible economy.

 Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr