LAHORE, June 12: While annual Economic Surveys launched by government on the eve of the national budget are never models of accuracy and logic, one cannot recall this document so heavily defiant of these principles than the latest Survey.

Numerous aspects of the Survey are on occasion mere raising eyebrows but it is the theme of poverty that produces a claim substantiated by specially manufactured data but contradicted by statistics in the Survey on many poverty-linked aspects.

A 4.2 per cent reduction has been claimed in the incident of poverty. The main evidence cited to authenticate a 'decline in poverty', indeed reversal of previous trends is a limited survey conducted in April-May this year. The Finance Minister has also asserted that 'other indicators representing the living conditions of the people have shown improvement over 2000-01.

What are these indicators? The survey under reference was primarily urban based while poverty is more rampant in rural Pakistan that is predominantly, indeed wholly, dependent on agriculture. The Survey reports a disappointing 2.4 per cent growth rate for the agriculture sector against a target of 4.2 per cent. That makes for rise in poverty rather than arresting existing trends, let alone their reversal.

Two of the main cash crops of the country, cotton and wheat, were 'lacklustre'-explanations of pest attack and bad weather are simplistic but that is another issue. These crops involve a large percentage of farmers. Are unsatisfactory crops a formulae for countering poverty?

Similarly, should statistics for inflation growing at 3.9 per cent over the first ten months of the last year against 3.3 per cent for the same period a year before, 4.9 per cent rise in food items against 3.1 per cent for the year before, unemployment galloping at 8.27 and National Savings 'remaining flat at 20 per cent' for the last two years be viewed as contributing towards reduction in poverty or intensifying misery?

The Economic Survey notes, quite correctly, an alarming increase in environmental degradation despite the government's efforts to improve conditions. Urban populations are under the risk of air pollution, provision of fresh water supplies in many parts of the country and some negative environmental factors are 'more than five times as high as in industrial countries and Latin America', according to the Survey. Which argument should one accept? Leading urban centres are simply bursting at the seams; their populations are growing at a frightening rate while civic facilities and basic services have failed to keep pace with higher population. The cities are expanding because of rural migration and the reason behind people leaving their hearths and homes is always poverty. Degradation of environmental conditions thus points towards rising poverty in the country, particularly in rural areas.

Some of the factors listed in the Survey as proof of better living conditions are drinking water, sanitation and use of electricity and gas for cooking purposes. How could such statistics be compiled in the face of incontrovertible evidence of deteriorating sanitary conditions and deaths by drinking of contaminated water in addition to official research citing a percentage of poison in the drinking water available in many cities makes one wonder.

The question that the Survey's contents on poverty throws up is: are its authors live in a private world or they have premeditatedly produced a document that is in stark contradiction of prevailing realities, one that misrepresents and misinterprets.



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