FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 19

Impediments to development

Pakistan has great potential to progress, with a rich cultural heritage and a strategic location at the crossroads of South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East. However, like many developing countries, it is facing a range of issues that are hindering its progress and development.

Poverty is one of the most significant social issues facing Pakistan. According to the World Bank, almost a quarter of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line. Poverty is particularly acute in rural areas, where access to basic services such as healthcare, education, and clean water is limited. The lack of opportunities and resources is forcing many people to migrate to urban centers, exacerbating the already high levels of urban poverty. According to a World Bank report titled “Country Climate and Development”, released in November 2022, “The estimated financial needs for post-floods rehabilitation and reconstruction amount to at least $16.3 billion. And this does not include the much-needed new investments required to support Pakistan’s adaptation to climate change and build resilience to protect the country from future climate shocks. As a direct consequence of the floods, the national poverty rate is projected to increase by 3.7-4pc points, pushing an additional 8.4-9.1 million people into poverty.”

Another significant problem is the lack of access to quality education. According to UNESCO, Pakistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, with only around 60pc of the adult population able to read and write. This is particularly true for girls, who face significant barriers to education due to cultural norms and lack of infrastructure. As a result, many children, especially girls, are unable to receive a basic education, which limits their opportunities for employment and further education.

According to UNICEF, schools for more than 2 million children in Pakistan remain completely inaccessible after the most severe flooding in the country’s history destroyed or damaged nearly 27,000 schools in the country. “Almost overnight, millions of Pakistan’s children lost family members, homes, safety, and their education, under the most traumatic circumstances,” said UNICEF’s Global Director of Education Robert Jenkins, upon returning from flood-affected areas in Pakistan. “Now, faced with the uncertainty of when they’ll be able to return to school, and having already endured some of the world’s longest school closures due to the pandemic, they are experiencing yet another threat to their future.”

In addition to places of learning, schools are critical in providing children with access to healthcare, psychosocial support, and immunization. The longer schools remain closed, the greater the risk of children dropping out altogether, increasing their likelihood of being forced into child labor and child marriage, and exposure to other forms of exploitation and abuse. Many of the hardest-hit districts were already among the most vulnerable communities in Pakistan. Before the current emergency, one-third of boys and girls in flood-affected areas were already out of school and 50pc of children suffered from stunting. These deprivations may be further exacerbated by prolonged school closures.

During the height of the pandemic, schools across Pakistan were fully or partially closed for 64 weeks between March 2020 and March 2022 – some of the world’s longest school closures. Less than six months on, the destruction caused by the extreme floods means schoolchildren are once again locked out of learning. According to the National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC), Pakistan has 22.8 million children between 5 and 16 years old – the world’s second highest number of out-of-school children. This shows that 44pc of children do not attend school but are engaged in labour or begging.

Gender inequality is another significant issue in Pakistan. Women face significant barriers to education, healthcare, and employment, and are often subject to violence and discrimination. In many parts of Pakistan, cultural norms and traditions dictate that women should stay at home and take care of the household. This limits their ability to participate in public life and contribute to the economy.

According to the World Bank, Pakistan’s economy can grow sustainably only if it introduces productivity-enhancing reforms that facilitate a better allocation of resources and talent. The report, titled “From swimming in sand to high and sustainable growth”, calls for resources to be allocated to more dynamic activities and for talent to be allocated to more productive uses, according to the statement. It says the country’s inability to properly allocate these resources stunted its economic growth and presented evidence of systematic productivity stagnation across firms and farms. Furthermore, it linked most of the productivity stagnation in manufacturing and services to firms losing efficiency over time. The report said the country not tapping into all of its talents further affected its productivity and urged Pakistan to “maximise positive impact on businesses and productivity across the board”. According to World Bank Country Director Najy Benhassine, women in Pakistan have made progress in educational attainment, but this accumulated human capital is underused because of constraints they face to participate in the labour force. He highlighted that women’s labour force participation in the country is among the world’s lowest with only 22pc of women employed. The World Bank official said by bridging the employment gap relative to peers, the country could accrue Gross Domestic Product gains of up to 23pc. He estimated that about 7.3 million new jobs could be created for women by successful implementation of policies to address the demand- and supply-side barriers to female labour force participation.

Access to quality healthcare is another significant social issue in Pakistan. The country has a high burden of disease, including infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis, as well as non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The healthcare system is underfunded and understaffed, with a shortage of doctors and nurses, particularly in rural areas.

Corruption is a pervasive social issue in Pakistan, with corruption at all levels of government and society. This includes bribery, nepotism, and embezzlement, which divert resources away from essential services and exacerbate poverty and inequality. Corruption also undermines the rule of law and erodes public trust in government institutions.

Pakistan is a country with significant potential, but it faces a range of social issues that are hindering its development. These issues include poverty, lack of access to quality education, gender inequality, healthcare, and corruption. Addressing these issues will require concerted efforts by the government, civil society, and the international community. By investing in education, healthcare, and social infrastructure, and promoting good governance, Pakistan can overcome the challenges and unlock its full potential.