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A wake-up call

February 23, 2011

PERHAPS the truth about Pakistan's development trajectory lies somewhere in between what the prophets of doom and the spin doctors have to say. In this respect, data released by reputed international organisations can help in truthful self-analysis. According to the UNDP report, Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development , released on Tuesday, Pakistan has a mixed score card, with more negatives than positives. The report says 54 per cent of Pakistanis face 'multi-dimensional deprivation', meaning that over half the population lacks access to proper education and health facilities and a decent standard of living. Pakistan has also fallen two positions to 125 out of 169 countries on the Human Development Index. The report was launched to mark the 20th anniversary of the Human Development Report and to commemorate late economist Mahbub-ul-Haq's contribution to development programmes. Other stark data includes the fact that 51.2 per cent of the population is deprived of education. Ten per cent of people have no access to water while 55 per cent lack proper sanitation facilities. The report says that more and more people are dying because of air and water pollution, reflecting the high cost of environmental degradation. As for the positives, over the past few decades life expectancy at birth has grown, the adult literacy rate has increased while gross primary school enrolment rates have also seen improvement.

Looking at the report holistically, there is little reason to celebrate as Pakistan is faced with considerable challenges where human development is concerned. Our problems are myriad: a stagnant economy and high inflation, the scourge of terrorism and lack of good governance. Factor in the after-effects of natural disasters such as last year's floods and the complexity of the challenges becomes apparent. Yet wallowing in our misery will not help. Since there are positives in the continuing national development narrative, the government should focus on these and try to replicate what has been done right. Forthright analyses of under-performing sectors are in order so that corrective measures can be put in place.

But for there to be positive change, we need those in power to honestly reflect on the state of development and come up with sustainable long-term solutions that can lift the country out of the bog of poverty, illiteracy and disease. We can learn from the experience of countries that have managed to improve their lot, countries such as Nepal and Indonesia among others. It is not too late to change course. For if we continue on the current trajectory — with tens of millions living in misery — the future does not look very pleasant.