ISLAMABAD: The poor endowment of social services in south Punjab has raised the issue of whether the region has been ‘neglected’ in the provincial and local development allocations, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says in a new report.

South Punjab is the most deprived region in the province in terms of basic services, such as sanitation facilities, and data shows only 56.2 per cent of the population uses improved sanitation facilities.

However, the disparity in safe drinking water is lower across the region, with more than 97pc of the population being able to drink water from improved sources.

“As a result of the study, we now understand that about 55pc of the population is living below 50pc of median income (per capita) in the rural south region of Punjab. Thirty-one per cent of the population in the south is living below the national poverty line whereas this percentage is lower in centre and north Punjab,” says the ‘South Punjab Regional SDGs Indicators Comparison with Centre and North’ report prepared by the UNDP in partnership with South Punjab Secretariat.

Data shows only 56.2pc of population uses improved sanitation facilities

Commenting on the report, UNDP Resident Representative Knut Ostby reaffirmed UNDP’s commitment to ‘Leave No One Behind’ and contribute to the regional development of south Punjab. “Given the longstanding regional disparities, and high rates of poverty in the region, we are committed to the development of south Punjab through evidence-based policy making and technical support,” he said.

Data showing households with a median income below 50pc indicates that nearly half of the population in Punjab is living below the median per-capita consumption which is Rs5,499.34 per month. Population living below median consumption is indicative of relative poverty and inequality within a country or a region, says the UNDP report made available to Dawn on Tuesday.

The report says the national poverty rate is one of the key indicators that is significant for not only measuring the percentage of the population living below the poverty line, but also because of its political and economic significance. In Pakistan, it is the prerogative of the Planning Commission to determine the national poverty line based on the socio-economic nature and standard of living in the country.

Statistics on health expenditure indicate that 8.4pc of individuals in north Punjab were spending more than 10pc of their monthly consumption expenditure on healthcare, followed by south Punjab where 6.8pc spent more than 10pc of their consumption expenditure on health.

Data shows that south Punjab has the highest proportion of child labour, averaging 19.1pc, followed by the north at 11.4pc. The percentage of children engaged in child labour is very high and requires some dedicated policies and result-oriented interventions, says the report.

About the percentage of child marriage at the district level, the report shows a very high percentage (20pc) of girls getting married before the age of 18. Thirteen per cent of girls across northern Punjab also get married before they turn 18, and nearly 5pc of girls in South Punjab get married before their 15th birthday.

Data on mobile phone ownership by gender and age shows that there is considerable gender disparity in mobile ownership at the provincial level as well as across all regions. Only 28pc of women in south Punjab own mobile phones. A higher percentage of the male population owns a mobile phone, and there is very little regional disparity among male mobile phone owners, and there is little regional disparity among male mobile phone owners.

The percentage of population using clean energy in central Punjab is a little higher than half the population in the region, whereas this percentage is 45pc of the total population. The magnitude of clean energy use is very low in south Punjab (22pc), which is about the half of the province.

Tobacco is a major contributor to illness and death from non-communicable diseases. There is no proven safe level of tobacco use or of second-hand smoke exposure. All daily and non-daily users of tobacco are at risk of a variety of poor health outcomes across the course of their lives. The report says smoking is more prevalent among men, and regional estimates display the same smoking behaviour across all regions of Punjab.

The prevalence of stunting in south Punjab is higher than the other regions and the provincial average. More than a third of the children in south Punjab suffer from stunted growth. Wasting is the major form of moderate acute malnutrition; some acutely malnourished children would not be picked up with weight-for-height.

Data on infant mortality shows that in south Punjab, 43 children died per 1,000 live births as opposed to the provincial average where 41 children died per 1,000 live births.

Showing regional estimates on reproductive, maternal, new-born and child health and service capacity and access among the general and the most disadvantaged population, the report says the highest disparity between regions was seen in the use of improved sanitation facilities. More than 30pc of population is still unable to use improved sanitation facilities.

The report provides SDGs data at the regional level for south Punjab, comparing this with north and central Punjab. Computed at the request of and with support from the planning and development department, south Punjab, the report provides 43 SDGs estimates for south Punjab using household surveys and is an evidence-based policy guidance tool for decision-makers in the region.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2022

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