Repositioning Nutrition as Central to Economic Uplift in Sindh
By Saleem Shaikh
Malnutrition has long been known to hurt economic growth and perpetuate poverty while improving nutrition can add 2-3 per cent to the GDP in a poor country like Pakistan and drive their economic growth. Yet, over past several years, various governments have failed to tackle the problem.
Economic and health experts believe that appalling state of malnutrition in the resource-rich and fertile Sindh is end-result of the grinding poverty and mal-utilization of uplift funds for health, water and sanitation infrastructure.
It is, they said, depressing to note that while tons of grains and other farm produces go waste due to official negligence and mismanagement, millions in the province have to sleep without eating enough food.
Officials in provincial food, agriculture, rural development and planning and development departments argue that many plans have already been put in place to fight the underlying causes of poverty, create employment opportunities and boost people’s income.
But those, who critically look at such government initiatives, said that the situation on the ground refuses to improve – perhaps because of official ineptness, inefficiency, corruption, misappropriation or under-utilization of development budgets and absence of monitoring and evaluation of such uplift plans.
Senior economic planning officials in the provincial planning and development department (P&DD) opine that factors such as the income mal-distribution, exploitation of the primary (agricultural) sector, the commoditization of agriculture, overt or covert un- or underemployment are some of the macro causes at the base of this social disease. Besides, the poverty rather than parasite or worn is the key vector of malnutrition and diseases in the province.
Poor households across the province spend around 75 per cent of their income on food and healthcare. A major study found that 36.3 per cent of the people surveyed in Sindh consumed less than 1,700 calories a day and another 25 per cent consumed between 1,700 to 2,100 calories per day.
According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2006-7, a vast majority of rural households are more than 10 kilometers away from basic services that include district administration headquarters, ambulances, functional maternal and child health centers and hospitals. Rural populations access drinking water through a range of methods of which tube-wells, boreholes or hand pumps account for more than half of such sources. But only 2.8 per cent of the rural households in the province use an appropriate treatment method, such as boiling or filtering.
An independent development economist Dr Javed A. Ansari said the poverty and rural urban disparities in the province continue to spiral up unimpeded because of bad governance, rampant corruption, inadequate budgetary allocations and their misappropriation or poor utilization.
He, however, believed the soaring poverty, which had deepened mal-nutrition, was unlikely to alleviate significantly until there was increased investment in health, education and basic infrastructure.
“Besides, there is a strong need to finally put nutrition at the center of development so that a wide range of economic and social improvements that rely on nutrition can be realized,” said a senior rural development planner in the provincial rural development department.
The Unicef’s recently released report’s findings that the province is grappled with levels of malnutrition almost as critical as Chad and Niger has sent shivers down the spines of many, who are concerned about the province’s aggravating socio-economic indicators and express their pity for the provincial government that even such findings had hardly pushed government into action for addressing the underlying causes of the malady.
One of the architects of the Unicef’s report working in the provincial health department, who preferred anonymity, told this scribe that it was not known as to since how long the people of the province had been in this fashion, eating hardly enough to keeping themselves alive. “But, it is certain that the malnutrition is not a new phenomenon for millions in the province and it has only surfaced more evidently in the wake of recent floods,” he remarked.
The members of civil society including NGOs and media, who have visited Sindh during the disastrous deluge, have been appalled at the face of malnutrition they have witnessed.
The province’s fertile farmlands yield surplus grains and vegetables, but these remain unaffordable for millions of people on account of soaring inflation and falling incomes.
“Biting inflation and escalating food prices have forced economically-battered families to divert their grocery budgets the funds that previously used to be utilized for providing education and minimum health to their children,” remarked Dr Fawad Ali of the P&D department’s health section.
He said that falling incomes and malnutrition coupled with increased consumption of unsafe water and unhygienic/poor quality food because of abnormally higher food prices had sent millions more below the poverty line.
Those, who feel aggrieved over Sindh’s depressing socio-economic profile, have slammed insensitivity of the public representatives towards the deplorable social and economic conditions of the populace.
They warned that escalating poverty, soaring food prices, unemployment, de-industrialization could together translate into volcanic outrage of the people against their rulers, who had hardly bothered to highlight the people’s genuine issues in the provincial and national assemblies and play their due part for resolving them. Instead, they had been seen fighting for protecting their own interests.
But, PPP MNA Nawab Yousuf Talpur claims that he has often drawn government’s attention towards people’s social and economic hardships.
“I’ve raised issue of massive grain losses and worrisome state of education, health and ruptured basic infrastructure on the floor of Parliament and asked the public representatives on a point of order whether they are destined to ruin fertile and resource-rich Sindh, which contributes more than 70 per cent of the country’s total revenue, accounts for some 65 per cent oil and more than 70 per cent gas,” he said.
He recalled that he had also highlighted issue of non-availability of quality storage facilities for farm produces during last budget speech of the federal finance minister. But, it was a matter of pity that nothing concrete transpired.
Officials in the provincial food department said: “There are some nefarious elements in the government, who foil efforts with full force whenever taken for building up the modern silos. Because, they get heavy kick-backs and bribes when renting spaces for storing the grains,” told one official in the provincial food department.
|Inadequate storage facilities pose a major problem|
There are many others who blame dismal social spending for the current socio-economic maladies. “There are ample evidences that adequate social spending in transparent manner is indeed very effective in overcoming poverty and inequality and in promoting health and prosperity,” said Dr Khalid Pervez, who is providing healthcare services at a health facility in Al Jamkanda village of Karachi’s Bin Qasim town, which has been set up by the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF).
He believed that adequate spending on health, education, and rural development could turn around the situation of poverty and malnutrition in the province. But, unfortunately such social spending gap had translated into the grinding malnutrition, rise in health diseases, illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and unsafe water and sanitation.
Sadiqa Sallahuddin, a prominent rural and health development expert of the Indus Resource Center, believes that remedy to gruesome malnutrition in the province lies in increased spending for alleviating what she described ‘wild poverty’.
She remarked: “Despite so many socio-economic uplift initiatives and whatever health budget allocation and spending, Sindh remains the most backward in all walks of the life. It is because there are some pro-active forces having mal-fide interests, who want to keep the province trapped into a socio-economic mess. However, nefarious designs of such unscrupulous forces are only aimed to water down/bog down endeavors of progressive forces. Because, they are those who want to see the province driven on the path of socio-economic development.”
Landlords, so-called public representatives sitting on treasury and opposition benches, corrupt bureaucrats and mafias were, among others tough challenges to the province’s overall development. These forces hamper every initiative taken for the uplift of education, health, political empowerment of the masses, etc., she believed.
|Villages & small towns in Sindh don't have water supply system while in Thar & some other areas. womenfolk have to walk miles to fetch water. Unhygienic water is cause of illness & diseases|