WASHINGTON: Pakistan and the World Bank have discussed the scope of enhancing social protection programmes, giving top priority to educa-tion, healthcare and nutrition.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the Pakistan embassy said Friday’s meeting bet­ween Federal Minister for Poverty Alleviation and Social Security Shazia Marri and the World Bank’s Global Director for Social Protection and Jobs Michal Rutkowski focused on both long-term issues as well as those created by last summer’s devastating floods.

“The scope and the magnitude of the adaptive social protection strategies would be further enhanced in Pakistan, giving top priority to education, healthcare and nutrition,” the minister said after the meeting.

“The World Bank’s technical assistance would go a long way in maximising the outreach and success of social protection programmes in Pakistan,” she added.

Top priority will be given to education, nutrition and healthcare

Director Rutkowski assured the federal minister that the World Bank “would broaden its engagements and augment its assistance to Pakistan to foster better outcomes and enhance the productivity of Pakistan’s social protection strategies through skill enhancement, training and other means”.

Recent UN reports showed that the 2022 floods have destroyed or damaged nearly 27,000 schools, preventing more than two million Pakistani children from returning to their education.

Even before the floods, the country had the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children, with an estimated 22.8 million — aged five to 16 — not attending school. This represents 44 per cent of the total population in that age group.

Another UN report noted that four out of 10 children under five are stunted while 17.7pc suffer from wasting. Almost one in three children (28.9pc) are underweight, alongside a high prevalence of overweight (9.5pc) in the same age group.

Despite the recent increase in public health facilities, Pakis­tan’s population growth has generated an unmet need for healthcare.

The country’s total expenditure on health per capita in 2021 was Rs657.2bn, constituting 1.4pc of the country’s GDP.

The federal minister is visiting the United States at the invitation of the World Bank to share Pakistan’s experiences on adaptive social protection as well as post-flood issues.

Ms Marri told World Bank officials that the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) was launched in 2010, and since then, it had become a “resounding success” in ameliorating the fate of the poorest of the poor in Pakistan.

She also conveyed Pakistan’s gratitude for the bank’s prompt response and tremendous support extended during the catastrophic floods.

Director Rutkowski acknowledged the significant contributions of the BISP in protecting the livelihoods of the most vulnerable segments of the Pakistani population, particularly in the aftermath of the floods.

Sardar Masood Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, was also present at the occasion.

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2023

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