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Poverty hovers around 33pc

Mirzam Khan, 13, carries a bag full of garbage that he collected from waste, hoping to sell to a recycling factory, in Islamabad, Pakistan. – AP (File Photo)

ISLAMABAD, Sept 24: Nearly one third of Pakistan’s population is poor as the incidence of poverty hovers around 33 per cent, making poverty alleviation a daunting challenge for the present government, says a report.

In absolute numbers, 58.7 million people are living below the poverty line in Pakistan out of the total population of estimated 180 million.

An Islamabad-based think-tank – Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) launched the report on Monday titled “Clustered Deprivation: District Profile of Poverty in Pakistan” measuring acute poverty in the country.

Interestingly, the report came at a time, when the Planning Commission of Pakistan is planning to work out the poverty estimates at around 12 per cent. It must be noted that the government has not produced poverty estimates for the past five years.

Contrary to this, the new study uses the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), an international measure of acute poverty developed by Oxford Department of International Development. The MPI uses 10 indicators to measure poverty in three dimensions: education, health, assets and living standards.

The study reveals that 20 districts in the whole country have an acute poverty incidence. Of these 16 districts are located in the province of Balochistan and four in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

District Kohistan emerged the top most vulnerable district in the country in terms of poverty incidence.

“Balochistan is the poorest of all provinces with 52 per cent population living below poverty line, followed by Sindh with 33 per cent, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 32 per cent and Punjab with 19 per cent”, the report reveals.

The author of the study, Arif Naveed, a senior research associate at SDPI has urged the federal and provincial governments to immediately release poverty statistics and revisit policies to address acute poverty in Pakistan.

Naveed said that stark inequalities over the incidence of poverty across regions have been identified in the report, between provinces and within each province.

Highlighting education and health as major drivers, the report calls for greater investments on human development and equitable distribution of public resources across the regions. The report has only mapped the districts where acute poverty has been estimated. However, the study has not covered the reasons that cause poverty in these regions.

“We have just mapped the districts where poverty is rampant. We will cover the reasons for this poverty in our next study,” Naveed commented.

Chairing the session, Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Executive Director, SDPI said: “Poverty should not remain merely a number game for government but it rather requires deliberate measures and paradigm shift to invest on human development.”

Referring to absolute poverty in conflict ridden Balochistan and Fata, he said, “When poverty and food security take an identity be its ethnic, religious or provincial, it leads to disintegration and destruction of social fabric of society.”

He cited statistics from this latest SDPI report using multidimensional poverty index and SDPI’s Food Security Report 2009 and said, both of these reports confirmed that out of 20 most poor districts in Pakistan, majority are from Balochistan.