THE Human Development Index 2019, released by UNDP last week, should cause alarm in government circles. Pakistan has dropped to the 152nd spot, ranking below other South Asian countries. In fact, its overall development score is 13pc below the South Asian average. The report gives a disturbing view of Pakistan’s myriad development challenges, indicating that the country’s poor score was due to its high infant mortality figures, a low rate of enrolment and retention of children in schools, and high gender inequality in households, schools and health sectors. The extent of this inequality can be gauged from the UNDP’s multidimensional poverty index: out of 541m poor people in all of South Asia, 75m alone live in Pakistan. Even more astounding is the fact that out of these 75m poor people, 40m are children. In effect this means that every third child in the country is poor. Similarly, huge gaps in gender inequality stymie the country’s progress on development. According to the report, 11pc of girls in South Asia are poor and not in school. However, in Pakistan’s case the number is as high as 27pc. Moreover, around 23pc of children aged up to four experience intra-household inequality in terms of nutrition in South Asia; again, in the case of Pakistan the figure is more than 33pc.
Other development challenges are evident as well and include the high maternal mortality rate, stunting in children and low literacy rates — all well-known. However, this report sheds light on important connections between various development indicators that give a more comprehensive picture of the many weak links which have hampered development in this country for decades now. Terms such as ‘youth bulge’, ‘poverty-stricken people’ and ‘out-of-school children’ are used abundantly in the political and development discourse, but often our solutions to complicated development issues lack depth, and our understanding of the existing linkages leaves much to be desired . For example, poor learning outcomes in schoolchildren cannot be tackled without addressing rampant malnutrition in pregnant women and children below the age of five. Similarly, malnutrition is also strongly linked to disease outbreaks such as measles. The authorities in Pakistan need a perception shift vis-à-vis development issues and available or applicable solutions. One can only hope that the new report, which is useful for future policymaking, is noted by Pakistani leaders and leads to alterations in the existing remedies for the betterment of the population.
Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2019