As many as 35 million people are still malnourished in Pakistan despite an increase in the per capita income from $586 to $1,368 during 2002 to 2013.
Moreover, almost half of the rural households in Punjab do not own lands, while only 0.2 per cent of them have 100 to 150 and above acres making it 12.5 per cent of land.
These grim statistics were shared at the launching ceremony of the global inequality report organised by Oxfam GB in collaboration with SPO at Margalla Hotel on Thursday. The report titled ‘Even it Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality’ states that the number of billionaires worldwide has more than doubled since the financial crisis.
Mustafa Talpur, head of policy advocacy at Oxfam, revealed that the stunting rate in children was 2.5 times higher among children of lower income groups belonging to the bottom 20 per cent of the population. “Under five mortality rate is more than double in the bottom 20 per cent of the population – 119 and 48 respectively, he said.
“Stunting in Punjab is 39.8 per cent with 32.4 per cent in urban and 42.9 in rural areas of the province,” he said, adding that Sindh has the highest stunting rate – 56.7 per cent with an alarming 63.3 per cent in rural and 46.1 per cent in urban areas.
Arif Jabbar Khan, the country director of Oxfam, said the richest 20 per cent are paid nearly 45 per cent of monthly income while the bottom 20 per cent roughly get a meager eight percent of the share, adding that the income gap was even wider in urban areas where the top 20 per cent take 61 per cent of monthly income in comparison to 3.45 percent by the bottom 20 percent of the population.
“It is high time that we understand that traditional poverty alleviation mechanisms may not be enough,” Khan said, adding that “we need to focus on the widening gap between rich and poor”.
While highlighting multiple inequalities, Talpur said 72 per cent children in the urban areas and 86 per cent in the rural areas attended government schools while this ratio for top 20 percent households was 12 per cent and 37 per cent respectively. “We are really killing ourselves,” he said, “can anyone live in the societies we are creating.”
Elaborating further, Dr Kaiser Bengali, adviser to the Balochistan chief minister, said we have created two Pakistans – one of ‘Ashraafiya’ (elite) and the other of the ‘Awaam’ (public). Bengali revealed that Pakistan has the same number of people living under poverty in 2014 as there were in 1964. “There is no vertical mobility in Pakistan. Those who have moved from cycles to motorcycles and from two-wheelers to cars are visible and the vice versa are not.”
Being an economist and after working with different governments, Bengali claimed that the government had enough money to end hunger in a year and spread education in every nook and corner of the country in just five years.
“Neo-liberalism has destroyed all the government institutions and if we want to progress we must bury neo-liberalism in a 12 feet deep grave,” he said. “The market is answerable to purchasing power rather than the need.”
Poverty creates misery and inequality causes anger, he said, adding that these were the root causes of militancy and terrorism in country. “Right now, we have spread inequality through education in Pakistan.” He said that inequality could only end by creating jobs and land reforms.
Rising inequality could set the fight against poverty back by decade, the speakers concluded.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2014.