FeaturedNationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 11

Tackling undernourishment

Prime Minister Imran Khan admires the Chinese model to eradicate poverty and corruption from Pakistan. Critics say citing a model he cannot adopt in his country is an admission of his failure.

At least 3m people have lost their jobs and another 10 million people slipped below the poverty line as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, the Economic Survey 2019-20 estimates. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has reported that Pakistan is among three Asian countries where the rate of undernourishment due to poverty is the highest. The highest rates of undernourishment in 2017 were observed in Afghanistan (29.8pc), Timor-Leste (24.9pc), and Pakistan (20.3pc), the ADB reported in the 50th edition of its annual statistical report, “Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific.” It said the prevalence of undernourishment in the total population was below 10pc in 26 of the 37 reporting economies, compared with only 14 of 37 in 2000.

In contrast, the prevalence of undernourishment was the lowest—at a rate of 2.5pc or below—in Australia; Azerbaijan; Hong Kong, China; Japan; Kazakhstan; Malaysia; New Zealand and the Republic of Korea. The report added that in spite of reductions in undernourishment in more than four-fifths of economies in Asia and the Pacific since 2000, hunger persists in the region. According to the UN, the rates of reducing undernourishment in Asia and the Pacific have slowed significantly in recent years, risking progress toward the SDG target to eradicate hunger by 2030. Investments in agriculture are needed to increase productivity and sustainability in food production systems. Of the 37 regional economies with available data, 31 experienced a decline in the prevalence of undernourishment in the total population from 2000 to 2017. The largest reductions during the review period occurred in Myanmar (37.7 percentage points), Mongolia (21.7 percentage points), and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (21.2 percentage points).

The prevalence of stunting in Pakistan has witnessed a meager improvement since 2000 as the rate of stunting among children under the age of five years has fallen from 42pc in 2000 to 37pc in 2017. In Asia, the prevalence of stunting has fallen since 2000 in more than 85pc of developing member economies for which data are available. Poor food security and severe malnutrition have led to millions of Asian and Pacific islander children being stunted (i.e., too short for their age). The prevalence of stunting in children below the age of 5 years exceeded 25pc in 15 of the 30 developing member economies with available data for 2016 (or another recent year). The highest rates of stunting were found in Timor-Leste (50.9pc), PNG (49.5pc), and the Lao PDR (44.2pc). The prevalence of stunting in children below the age of 5 years fell in 26 of the 30 reporting economies that had two data points available for comparison (ranging from 2000 to 2008 and 2009 to 2016).

The three economies in which the prevalence of stunting increased over the review period were PNG (5.6 percentage points), Malaysia (3.5 percentage points), and Vanuatu (2.8 percentage points), while there was no change to this indicator in the Republic of Korea.

According to the Asian Development Bank report, extreme poverty (or below $1.9 per day poverty line) in Pakistan has gone down from 28.6pc of the total population in 2001 to 3.9pc in 2015. The report added that on the basis of the National Poverty Line, Pakistan’s poverty ratio declined to 24.3pc in 2015 compared to 64.3pc in 2001. Urban poverty decreased from 50pc in 2001 to 12.5pc in 2015, while rural poverty went down from 70pc in 2001 to 30pc in 2015. The overall numbers show that the number of people living in extreme poverty in Asia and the Pacific Asia has declined from 1.1 billion in 2002 to 264 million in 2015.

The region’s share of global gross domestic product (in US dollars) surpassed one third in 2018 while the region’s role in global value production chains and as a destination for higher-value products is also expanding. In 2000, Asia generated 23pc of the income from the production of world exports, which has increased to 30.2pc by 2018.

Almost half of Balochistan’s households face mild to severe food insecurity, according to a report released by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). Of the 36.9pc food insecure households in the country, 18.3pc face severe food insecurity. According to the SBP, almost a quarter of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line, set at Rs3,030.3 per adult equivalent per month. It means that around 50 million people in the country are unable to meet their basic needs. Most of these people live in rural areas where the poverty rate is 30.7pc. The central bank noted provincial disparities in terms of food security in Pakistan. In Balochistan, at least 30pc households experience hunger on a chronic basis. On the other hand, Gilgit-Baltistan has the most food secure households, nearly 80pc in the region, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (70pc). Only 63.1pc of the country’s households are “food secure” despite the fact that Pakistan is self-sufficient in major staples.

According to the Ministry of Health and UNCEF’s National Nutrition Survey, 2018, Pakistan is ranked at 8th position in producing wheat, 10th in rice, 5th in sugarcane, and 4th in milk production. However, almost half of the children under five years are stunted and one in ten has been suffering from low-weight-for height. Incorporating the factors, Pakistan was ranked 106th among 119 countries surveyed for the Global Hunger Index, and has been characterised as facing a “serious” level of hunger. A high population growth and unfavourable water and climatic conditions in the country mean that concerns about food security may increase manifold over the next two to three decades.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has launched an ambitious plan for social safety and poverty alleviation in the country. His steps sound innovative and sincere but the key question is their implementation and funds, especially at a time when Pakistan’s economy is in dire straits and it is finding hard even to run its day-to-day affairs.

Critics say the prime minister’s plan of poverty alleviation will meet the fate of his election promises. He had promised 10 million jobs and five million houses to the underprivileged. He had announced the provision of cheap electricity, gas, fuel and essentials to the people after coming to power. Instead, their rates have doubled in the two years of his government. China was able to alleviate poverty because its economy was growing at an unprecedented level in the world. On the other hand, Pakistan’s economy is in tatters. The country is left with little resources after debt servicing and necessary expenditure. It will have to improve its economy to lift people out of poverty. The country’s economic growth is expected to slow down in the next few years. In the meager growth rate, more people are feared to lose jobs and fall below the poverty line. It will be a miracle if the government even maintains the current level of poverty and jobs in the next few years.