ISLAMABAD, June 2: In the Economic Survey 2011-12, while the government admits incidence of huge poverty growth over the last three years citing natural disruptions and global food inflation as main reasons, it appears to have deliberately concealed the latest percentage figure of the population living under poverty line.
When reporters asked about the latest poverty figures during news conference, the finance minister, Hafeez Shaikh, promptly stated that the figures were not available since poverty survey is not yet complete.
The poverty figures have always remained controversial, especially during the rule of ex-military dictator Musharraf, the Statistics Division was pressured by the government not to show true figures even though the percentage of population living below poverty line was believed to be over 40 percent.
Interestingly, not only for the current and next fiscal year the government has not produced the poverty figures in last three years and even previous government recorded it till year 2005-06 and left out beyond that.
The Survey under review claims that Pakistan has experienced reduction in absolute poverty over a four-year period (2002-2006) as poverty headcount decreased from 34.5 per cent in 2000-2001 to 22.3 per cent in 2005-2006.
The Survey notes that global food prices rose by more than 30 per cent year-on-year between March 2010 and March 2011.
Beyond 2005-06, however, successive governments did not bother to obtain or record the population living under poverty line although it admits that reduction in poverty headcount was associated with substantial growth in per capita GDP which obviously remained elusive over the last three years.
The poverty is noted by the Economic Survey as fallout of global food prices rocketing to record high in real terms, quoting an ADB study on “global food inflation and developing Asia” suggests that 'if a 30 per cent increase in global food prices persists throughout 2011, gross domestic product growth for some food importing countries could be choked off by up to 0.6 percentage points and if combined with a 30 per cent increase in world oil prices, GDP growth could be reduced by up to 1.5 percentage points.”
The Survey indicates massive social disruption owing to earthquake of 2005, intensification of war on terror since 2007, devastating floods of 2010, and persistent hike in food prices in recent years, coupled with slower pace of economic growth, having serious ramifications for poverty and income distribution.
It further noted: “The data of last two poverty estimates (2004-05 and 2005-06) suggests strong clustering around the poverty line and that historically, around 75 per cent of the population surrounds both sides of poverty line.”
UNESCAP has estimated that high food prices in 2010 kept an additional 19.4 million people in poverty in Asia and the Pacific; they prevented 15.6 million people in the region from emerging from poverty and have pushed another 3.8 million below the poverty-line.
The government claims to be focusing mainly on acceleration of economic growth and maintaining macroeconomic stability, investing in human capital, augmenting targeted interventions and expanding social safety net and improving governances as five-point poverty reduction strategy.