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Higher poverty in Balochistan

February 06, 2006

Conflict in Balochistan among other reasons also highlights its ‘poverty’. The ongoing military operation is pushing more and more people towards below-poverty line, says a report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

The HRCP’s January 22 report reveals how natural resources turn out to be a matter of threat and survival for the people who own them. The incidence of poverty is higher here than any other province, despite the fact that it is endowed with rich reserves of gas, oil, coal, gold and copper. “Misguided obsession with the state’s version of development while children are not able to go to school because of ongoing confrontation, will undermine development itself,” the commission has warned.

Poverty is a multi-dimensional concept rather than simple income (consumption) deprivation. Any single measure of poverty, such as head-count ratio based on specific ‘poverty line’ does not fully capture all its dimensions and does not reflect the real causes of wider human sufferings.

‘Poverty of opportunity’ index, a composite of deprivation in three vital dimensions— health, education and income— is quite useful in this regard. In case of Balochistan, any single measure indicates that it is the poorest province.

Only 20 per cent of its people have an access to safe drinking water compared to 86 per cent in the rest of Pakistan. Village electrification is only 25 per cent compared to 75 per cent in the rest of the country. Infant mortality rate per 1,000 people is 108 as against national rate of 100. The situation of basic amenities and access to education is also far below the ratio of other provinces.

Presently, the poor are recovering from the devastating drought that plagued the province for the last five years. The groundwater is depleting rapidly. Only six per cent of the land is cultivable and productivity is low because of the arid conditions.

The predominantly patriarchal social structures are a traditional challenge to human development and gender equity. The rugged and inaccessible terrain, limited water resources for irrigation, large illiterate population, ethnic diversity and traditional women’s status are added challenges to economic growth and human development.

To quote Mir Khuda Bakhsh, a clan elder of the Marri tribe in Kohlu, who told newsmen that the motive of the military action is to capture oil and gas resources of the area. According to him, the local people ask, what benefits the exploitation of power resources in Dera Bugti has brought to their lives in the past 50 years? They still burn wood for fuel purpose and live like nomads.

Then, how would the exploitation of mineral riches from Kohlu benefit the local population in the future? Whereas the Sui gas brought an industrial revolution in Pakistan, Balochistan still lacks an industrial base which is the single biggest cause of unemployment in the province..

Though the natural gas was discovered in Balochistan in 1952, its many districts remain deprived of gas transmission facility. It was only in 1976 that the province got its first liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in Quetta. Later, gas through pipelines was made available in that city.

Even Sui in Bugti tribal area, which houses the gas plant, does not have piped gas connections in most cases. District Ziarat got piped gas connections only last year after several protests from environmentalists and NGOs lamenting the fact that that the local population was still using wood from Juniper forests.

Sui gas field in Bugti tribal area meets approximately 45 per cent of the country’s total gas production. The Pakistan Petroleum Ltd (PPL) is producing 720-750 million cubic feet of gas per day from its 80 plus wells in the field. The gas reserves discovered were to the tune of 9.625 trillion cubic feet.

According to an estimate, the province produces natural gas worth Rs85 billion annually but gets Rs7 billion only as royalty from the federal government.

The 12.5 per cent royalty fixed for gas drawn from the field area is based on “wellhead value”, which is much below market value received by other gas fields in other provinces.

Sui gas field is the single largest source of energy supply for different industries, power generation, agriculture, commerce and household use in the country. This gas is also used for manufacturing fertilizer and other chemicals and is a vital source of huge foreign exchange savings as the same would have been spent on the import of energy had the gas reserves not been discovered. Unfortunately, the province has been deprived of its due share in terms of royalty and economic benefits.

Balochistan remains almost voiceless, having no say in the decision- making process at the centre. Its over 50 per cent population subsists below the poverty line.Income-based inequities in human development need to be addressed.

During FY 2000-2001, only 9.2 per cent of the total Khushhal Pakistan programme budget had been allocated to the province compared to 16.2 per cent for the NWFP, 19.7 per cent for Sindh, and 48.9 per cent for Punjab. During the first year of the programme, utilization as a percentage of the budgeted amount was the lowest for the province at 2.8 per cent compared to 7.7 per cent in NWFP, 8.2 per cent in Sindh, and 19 per cent in Punjab.

In the FY 2004, the federal contribution to the provincial development programmes was 56 per cent for NWFP, 28 per cent for Punjab, 19 per cent for Sindh and only eight per cent for Balochistan. The share allocated in foreign project assistance (FPA) to Punjab was 53 per cent, NWFP 29 per cent, Sindh 12 per cent and again only six per cent for Balochistan.

As provided in the 1973 Constitution, the concurrent list of subjects was to be reviewed after 10 years in 1983. This has not been done even after a lapse of 31 years.

Balochistan’s financial position is so weak that sometimes the provincial government seems to be merely a salary distribution-agency instead of a federating unit.

Frequently there arises a problem of shortfall of revenue and the provincial chief executive warns of stopping payment of salaries to government employees. The province generates a revenue of Rs1.622 billion, apparently just enough to pay the monthly salaries of its officials. A grant of Rs27 billion is received from the federal government and has a deficit of Rs15.5 billion.

The over centralisation and arbitrary nature of decision-making has been the potent reason behind Balochistan-Centre row. Allocation of funds for the development in the province remain at the discretion of the economic planners in Islamabad. It is also because of the dominance of central authorities in the National Finance Commission that the province feels a stranglehold of the centre over its natural resources.

A simmering insurgency has continued in Balochistan over the last three decades. But, since the early 1970s there had been no open armed conflict between the government and the Baloch tribes. In early 2000, tension rose but in the beginning of 2005, it turned pretty sour.

A multi-factor approach must be adopted vis-a-vis sharing of resources among the provinces, instead of a ‘population-alone’ basis. In the next NFC Award, the weightage for revenue, poverty and area should be given so that it deny a fair share to any province.