The fact that millions of people in our country are deprived, is really no surprise. All of us, almost daily, see some evidence of this deprivation in one form or the other. But even then, when the harsh reality of figures is put before us, it comes as something of a shock. The latest Human Development Index (HDI) — ironically enough, devised and launched by Pakistani economist Mahbubul Haq in 1990 — put out by the United Nations Development Programme, is no less saddening than that of previous years. From its rank of 123 last year, Pakistan has slumped to 125th place among 169 countries, just a few points separating it from a group of nations — many lying in the desolate desert lands of sub-Saharan Africa — which record the lowest HDI scores in the world.
We learn from the report that three in 10 people lack access to healthcare; five in 10 to education; a large number live on degraded land which can produce little in terms of food crops. The PPP government has not released official poverty figures, but Planning Commission economists in 2007-08 had estimated it stood at around 40 per cent. In terms of human rights abuses, Pakistan again fares poorly, standing just a miniscule step above the countries with the worst levels of satisfaction. In this women are particularly worse off. There are other figures in the report that can be cited to describe our litany of woes. So, too, can figures from other nations in the region that have made far better progress. But this, in some ways, is pointless. Sadly, we know just how badly off we are.
The question we need to ask is why this state of affairs has come about. It is true that there are linkages with poor governance over many decades, as well as failures to make the needs of people a priority, coupled with excessive defence spending. But even then, to come up with so dismal a record given that we possess both resources and skills, is alarming. Our priority for the future must be to change the HDI ranking and scramble higher up the ladder by granting people a better life than the one they lead now.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2011.