Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Goals
(Part III-Inequality)- CSS Pak Affair
It was a late evening in Islamabad, a few months after the 2005 earthquake, when I spotted an old man standing by a road. I pulled up beside him, assuming he needed a ride. When I asked if I could take him somewhere, he pulled a young boy from behind him to his side and said, “If you want to help, take him with you and give him a decent life. This is my grandson and I cannot feed him anymore. His parents are no more and I am too old to work. And I cannot see him hungry.” A decade later, I still get teary-eyed when recalling this moment.(CSS Pakistan Affair)
One would want to believe, as popular myth goes, that people do not go to bed hungry in Pakistan. In 2016, Pakistan ranks 79th out of 109 countries according to the Global Food Security Index. Approximately 40pc of children under the age of five are underweight according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) survey. Iodine, iron and protein deficiencies result in an annual loss of 3 to 4pc of the GDP. And with millions of children compelled to attend schools hungry, the situation couldn’t get worse. It is impossible for a hungry child to focus on learning when adequate nutrition is needed for optimal mental and physical development. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates 37.5mn people in Pakistan are not adequately nourished. To add, an estimated 45pc of deaths in children under the age of five are caused by poor nutrition. If pregnant and lactating women are malnourished and if children do not get adequate nutrition in the first few years of their life, mental and physical deficiencies become endemic.
Adequate nutrition is a basic right as Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) relates to ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition with the objective to promote sustainable agriculture. By 2030, Pakistan is supposed to “end hunger and ensure access for all, especially for the poor and vulnerable, to nutritious and sufficient food the year round.” By signing on the SDGs, the government has committed to ending all forms of malnutrition. However, independent of these commitments, if the country wants to achieve high growth rates and sustain the latter to ensure development, hunger and food insecurity need to end. The tragedy is that it is not the case that Pakistan is not producing enough food. It can easily afford to provide adequate nutrition for all citizens. It is a question about asymmetric income and wealth distribution which, in turn, results in iniquitous access to food. Poverty is one reason for insufficient access – the vast majority of the world’s hungry people live in developing countriess where 12.9pc of the population is undernourished. Overall economic deprivation is the reason for a certain percentage of people with poor nourishment in Pakistan. However, by almost all measures of poverty, the latter has decreased significantly over the last three decades. Nonetheless, at the same time, food insecurity still remains high, thereby stagnating maternal and infant mortality rates. About 50pc of women and children under the age of five are malnourished, according to WFP.
It is incomprehensible, then, that larger numbers of adults are malnourished and choose to keep their children poorly nourished even when poverty has decreased over the past few decades. The reason is a lack of investment in public services, such as access to portable water, sanitation, public, and preventive and curative healthcare. Wealthier segments of society have access to better quality, privately provided social services whereas the underprivileged and vulnerable rely on the state’s provision of public services. So, even if ‘poor’ families – from low-to-middle-income segments – have an income above a minimum threshold, they stile have access only to poor quality drinking water, limited access to quality liquid and solid waste management services, and no decent healthcare services – implying poor health outcomes. An unhealthy individual is likely to have reduced nutrition absorption as well.
Another factor imperative to ending hunger is climate and environmental changes, predicted to play havoc with future agricultural output. If, with adequate food availability and a fairly robust agricultural sector, the country is presently beset with severe malnutrition challenges – almost 60pc of Pakistanis are food insecure – what is the possibility for a future with acute food and water shortages? Agriculture also supplies a large percentage of jobs and income opportunities in rural areas. If it becomes more unpredictable, such shifts are likely to impact job and income opportunities. If increased inequalities remain unchecked and there is minimal investment in public services, then it is hard to imagine how the government will even come close to its target of eliminating hunger and ensuring access to adequate nourishment for all by 2030. Current inequality trends are, in fact, detrimental to eliminating hunger. To add, if climate change is even half as disruptive as predicted, then ensuring adequate nutrition will become more elusive. Reorienting policies to include greater social sector investment in health, education, water, sanitation, employment and income guarantees, and food and nutrition programmes in schools are required urgently. Despite the adverse socio-economic impact of poor development policies, social sector development – especially mandated to the provinces under the 18th Amendment – is not even under discussion at policy tables in Pakistan today.
Courtesy: DAWN News