PAKISTAN’S downward trajectory where a number of development indicators, especially those related to food security, health and sanitation, are concerned has been widely discussed. In the past four years, we have slid at least 15 notches on the UN Sustainable Development Goals index. The country ranked 115th in 2016, went down to 117th in 2017, and then to 122nd in 2018 before reaching the 130th spot in 2019. Sadly, considering the strained economy, poor governance and high inflation, the living conditions of millions of Pakistanis will only get worse. It is ironic that Pakistan was among the first countries that translated the Millennium Development Goals into national goals and came up with a detailed framework for achieving them. However, Pakistan had missed several major goals related to health and climate by the conclusion of the MDG time frame in 2015. Similarly, after the Sustainable Development Summit of 2015, Pakistan was again one of the first countries to adopt the 2030 agenda through a resolution in the National Assembly. Yet, despite the allocation of resources, foreign aid and much activity in bureaucratic circles, the country continues to perform badly in several areas, the challenges ranging from malnutrition to education inequality. In the latest Human Development Report, Pakistan is ranked at 152, marginally below all other South Asian countries, not least because of the complexity of the developmental challenges it faces and its poor response to them.

What we lack are proper resources, political will, competent personnel and empowered local governments, while bureaucratic delays, corruption and mismanagement have worsened matters. Unfortunately, development to policymakers is an ‘outside’ problem to be tackled by academics and development agencies. What seems to be missing is the realisation that development indicators also expose ineffective governance. The success of any parallel or overarching development scheme will always remain limited if governance weakens the implementation of goals. For example, the introduction of the Sehat Sahulat Card that aims to provide health insurance is a laudable step by the PTI government, but unless a serious effort is made to improve the quality of drinking water — polluted water is a major source of disease — the initiative will remain ineffective because of rising health costs. Similarly, eradicating poverty and hunger will be difficult without a reduction in food prices. The challenges for the present government are enormous. But solutions might be simpler than expected — if the decision-makers are willing to make amends.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2020

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