TODAY the world is observing the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty at a time when the global economy is struggling to recover from the devastating Covid-19 impact, which has pushed millions of people into poverty. A UNDP study of 70 countries, including Pakistan, says the coronavirus outbreak may set global poverty levels back by nine years with an additional 490m people falling into multidimensional poverty. With the health crisis having derailed economies across the world, people living below the poverty line, women, children, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and other marginalised groups are facing a greater risk of reduced food consumption and earnings. That is as true for Pakistan as it is for any other nation. The IMF has projected a sharp increase in poverty in the country with up to 40pc Pakistanis living below the poverty line after the pandemic struck. This compares with an ADB assessment of 24.3pc of the country’s population living under the poverty line in 2015. The poverty incidence was reported to be about 31pc in June 2018, a couple of months before Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ascension to power.
Though the government under the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is committed to cut poverty by 6pc to 19pc by 2023, an anaemic economic growth, locust attack, entrenched high food inflation, and lack of implementation of pro-poor policies may already have pushed millions into poverty even before the virus reached Pakistan. According to independent assessments, the number of poor may have increased by 8m in the first year of the present government, and was projected to rise by another 10m even if the health crisis hadn’t disrupted the economy. There’s no doubt that the government’s decision to ramp up cash handouts to the poor to mitigate the impact of the pandemic did help them survive hard times. But that isn’t enough. If the poverty eradication target is to be met, the government must grow the economy at a faster pace, control inflation and significantly increase pro-poor expenditure.
Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2020