Pakistan Standards of Living Measurement Survey: scaling the status of living

Published July 5, 2021
For reasons best known to successive governments, the five-year development plans have become moribund for the past 18 years.
For reasons best known to successive governments, the five-year development plans have become moribund for the past 18 years.

Gauging the status of development on a periodic basis is a prime prerequisite in public administration. Governments learn about the outcomes of public spending done in different sectors and locations through such exercises.

These assessments also provide the justifications for strategising investments through programme or project modes. For reasons best known to successive governments, the five-year development plans have become moribund for the past 18 years. One can argue about the success or otherwise of this time-tested approach to development planning.

However, it is abandoned without instituting an alternative, and apparently replaced by project-based spending in different sectors of performance. Various exercises of information gathering keep informing us about the drastic shortcomings and development related disparities between provinces, intra-province comparisons as well as intra-district situations. Pakistan Standards of Living Measurement Survey (PSLM) 2019-2020 unfolds many realities.

Let us look at basic indicators of living. Findings of PSLM 2019-2020 inform that 94 per cent of the sample households now benefit from improved sources of water supply. About 22pc are connected to tap water; 23pc have access to hand pump; 30pc are linked with motor pump; 4pc get water through tanker trucks and 10pc from filtration plants.

The provincial governments in Sindh and Balochistan siphon major chunks of these funds in expanding the bureaucratic footprint through unworthy and non-strategic development projects along locations of their own choices

Roughly 83pc of surveyed households own their abodes and 91pc households have electricity as the main source of lighting. Some 48pc households use gas as the main fuel for cooking. Only 37pc of households have access to clean fuel for cooking, lighting and heating and 68pc of the surveyed households have access to improved toilet facilities. There is a significant geographical divide in respect to access to basic amenities. The situation is dismal in some districts in South Punjab, eastern Sindh, central Balochistan and former Federally Administered Tribal Areas territories.

Housing and related services are in poor shape in many districts. Sohbatpur in Balochistan displays 42pc house ownership followed by Karachi District South at 52.6pc. This is a clear indicator that people in this otherwise affluent district either resort to rented housing or informal housing.

It is a common observation that Delhi Colony, Punjab Colony, Shah Faisal Colony, Neelum Colony, Upper and Lower Gizri, Hijrat Colony and many other locations absorb a vast number of settlers. Sohbatpur in Balochistan is located along the Sindh-Balochistan border. It is a very underdeveloped location and depends upon the agro-pastoral economy.

The quality of domestic performance is severely impacted due to poor quality infrastructure in many districts. Electricity access in Rajanpur is 59.8pc. This figure also accounts for the low level of internet usage. In Tharparkar, 34.8pc households have access to electricity while Khyber in KP has 15.3pc. The Sheerani district in Balochistan has no electricity, as per PSLM findings.

PSLM 2020 informs that 93pc households have access to mobile phones in the country. KP has the highest number at 95pc with Sindh with 91pc at the lowest. About 12pc households have access to computers. Punjab with 13pc is at the highest while Balochistan with 6pc is the lowest. Internet access stands at 33pc with Punjab possessing 34pc as the highest and Balochistan at 21pc at the lowest. Concerning access to computers, Rajanpur (3pc), Tharparkar (1pc), Kohistan (2pc) and Awaran at 0pc paint a very gloomy picture. No wonder that one often hears disturbing news such as social unrest and crime from some of these locations. Similarly, internet coverage is very low in some of the surveyed districts. Rajanpur has 8pc coverage, followed by Tharparkar at 3pc and Awaran at 0pc.

Environment-friendly fuels are not easily available in many locations across the country. Roughly 4.33pc households reported access to natural gas in Rajanpur. The same district reported that only 1.14pc households have access to clean fuel for cooking. No household reported access to natural gas in Tharparkar, Orakzai and Sheerani. Similarly, no household reported access to clean fuel in Umerkot, Orakzai and Washuk districts.

It may be remembered that access to clean fuels has many factors connected to the environment, health and wellbeing of households. When clean fuel is not available, womenfolk cut the wood and use it as an option. This affects their health due to the high emission of smoke, inconvenience and other disorders. In places where dry wood is not available, trees and bushes are cut, branches and twigs dried and used as fuel. It is a constant hazard for women folk who are left to fend for themselves on this count.

Same districts also reported no or very poor access to municipal solid waste collection facilities. Water and sanitation services in several districts are extremely dismal. Roughly 61pc households reported access to flush toilets, followed by 32pc in Mohmand, 21pc in Tharparkar and 1pc in Khuzdar. Access to toilets in Dadu, Mastung and Hangu is severely constrained.

It may be noted that, since 2010, the provinces have access to higher financial resources than before. For instance, in 2020-21, Punjab was allocated Rs1.4 trillion, Sindh Rs0.7tr, KP Rs0.477tr and Balochistan Rs0.25tr.

The manner in which development funds are budgeted, released, spent and audited needs re-appraisal. One can arrive at many conclusions with reference to the state of development in various districts, especially the most underdeveloped locations. It is common knowledge that after the passage of the 18th constitutional amendment, the provinces received windfall funds when compared with the previous regimes.

However, the provincial governments in Sindh and Balochistan siphon major chunks of these funds in expanding the bureaucratic footprint through unworthy and non-strategic development projects along locations of their own choices. Very little funds were found to flow down to local government institutions. Consider that Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, the premier municipal agency of the city, has an annual budget of Rs25 billion. A single project by the Sindh government namely the safe city project is being implemented with spending of Rs30bn!

Poor governance and lack of strict monitoring do not generate the best value for money as expected. Balochistan experiences recurring trouble in many districts, including Awaran. But the sub-human status of life, breakdown of infrastructure and near-total absence of amenities pushes people into medieval conditions. The development status of our deprived districts must become the moot point of a national debate.

The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 5th, 2021

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