The High Cost of Poverty in Pakistan

Islamabad, 8:00 p.m.: While visiting one of the largest markets in an upscale area of the city I notice at least 12–15 women, standing alone or in pairs, trying to get clients. To say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. All of these women were clearly young. Some of them were wearing hijabs, others had their faces covered with shawls, chaddors, and dupattas. But there was no ambiguity as to why they were there. Cars would come and stop close to a woman to start negotiations, sometimes successfully, but often not. Some of the drivers were just “window shopping” while others, the serious clients, were bargaining and examining alternatives.

This is the capital of Pakistan, at dinner time in a very public area. Plenty of other cars drive by and families are all around. Over the last year, I had seen one or two women occasionally in this area before, but this last Saturday night was a shocker.

What is happening in Pakistan? Is poverty and inequality forcing people to desperation? And what are we, as a society and polity, doing about it?

Another day in the middle of the afternoon, not too far away from this market, I spied a very old man walking along the road. He had a white beard and was bent both at the waist and at the neck, and carried a load of jharoos (mops) on his head and prayer mats under his arm. He was too old to be working. And much too old to be toiling under the hot afternoon sun. But clearly he had no option.

At a local gym in Islamabad one of the coaches tells me that that his children passed their final exams with flying colors. I could see that he was very proud: “They have gone to the next class. I have to buy new books now.” He was not asking me for help. But I could tell that the books could only be purchased at a great cost to the family. The father already has two jobs. What more can he do if even after holding down two jobs he is unable to meet the basic needs of his children and family?

One of the local universities, one of the best in the country, is facing dire budgetary constraints and has had to fire a couple of dozen people, most of the administrative and clerical staff fear that deeper cuts are on the way. Those who still have their jobs are petrified. They rely on their salaries for monthly expenditures and do not have any savings to sustain them through a period of unemployment. There is also the fear that given the economic conditions of the country, a new job will not be easy to find.

Many of the administrative and clerical staff dream of the chance to work outside of Pakistan, mainly because the needs of their families are hard to meet through a Pakistani clerical salary. And the stories of those who have been able to find work in the Middle East, or England the United States, or Canada sound promising. Poor working conditions, in some of these places, and ambiguities regarding immigration status are not a deterrent. In fact, many Pakistanis have assumed significant risk—some even dying—in their attempts to be smuggled into these countries. But it seems that each one is more will than the next to make sacrifices for the sake of their families. And of course the opportunities, especially legal ones, are far fewer than the number of people seeking them.

A friend, who is a doctor at a public hospital in Lahore, told me that some of his patients are so poor that they must sacrifice their limbs as they cannot afford the operation or specialized surgical inserts. In fact, the hospital staff contributes to a common fund to help the most deserving of their patients even though they themselves can hardly afford to do so. The state, despite the fact it is their responsibility, gives little in terms of medicines and other equipment. Ultimately it is impossible to help even a fraction of the patients who are admitted.

A public primary school in a village outside Hyderabad is situated right next to a very large, smelly, and stagnant pool of water. There is garbage littered in and around the school. The classrooms, with no electricity supply most of the day, are hot, dark, dingy, airless and very uninviting. Yet children from nursery school to the fifth grade sit in this environment in order to get an education. Even the teachers, though qualified and trained, look almost lifeless. And it is hard to blame them. The entire school and its setting gives the impression that there is no one looking after the children and the school is functioning only as a matter of formality.

These stories do not need any comment. Pakistan is definitely facing difficult times politically, economically, and socially. From the actions against extremists, the consequences of terrorism, and very difficult macroeconomic conditions to extremely poor employment prospects, Pakistanis face an uphill battle. When we talk of these things in numbers we tend to forget there are real people behind them. These are some of the faces behind these statistics.

14 Comments

This is the face of Pakistan no one is willing to see. And with everyone now focusing on bin Laden these issues will be totally ignored.
The violence that poverty wreaks on ordinary people is heartrending.

Ayesha,I gon through this article i also like and appriciate it.This is not only related to Pakistan only but the scinario can be seen in south asia.therefore,we the people of this continent should unite for the prevention of such activities.those who r really living under poverty they should be protected by the state.thank u

Meanwhile, we continue to resist an effective agricultural income tax and have in the last week tested a nuclear-capable cruise missile..

RELIGION

has much to ANSWER & ACCOUNT for !!!

Jesus Christ stated 2,000 years ago,

PAY your tithing....Pay 10% of your earnings

- This goes to CATER for the poor
- To feed the HUNGRY
- To support the Sick,

Man...was toooo- wise,
and did otherwise.....

Thank you Faisal for informing people the tragic scenario of Pakistan. The scenario described by you has been like an imbedded reality of not only of the Pakistan but of the whole South Asia. It has been a misery for us all to fight over the generations against ultra-radical forces like Taliban and Maoists resulting into more vulnerability and poverty. However, we have to fight and survive to make things better.

This story is truw, not just for Pakistan, but for all developing and undeveloped economies. Its a transitional change that these economies go through. Whiel onw may argue that people should get together & fight this and/or the State should take active responsibility, the actual need is that of effective governance - What is essential & required to be done in an effective & sustainable manner? Change will not come overnight, but a transitional process with a common goal in mind should be put in place sooner than later. Also internal & external conflicts including terror, outside interference, et al do not help and at times, a liot of us are led to believe that this condition & scenario on such nations are planned.

Thank you for this 'plain english'description of poverty in Pakistan.
I agree the situation pervades South Asia including India where in spite of fabulous economic growth nearly 300 million people go to sleep hungry every night.
The situation is indeed desperate and after decades of 'aid' we have to ask so why is it not working?

I have heard of the great economic growth, and even this will take a little bit of time. I hope these countries will use gov't only as a facilitator and not as a supporter. Perhaps that is partly why the 'aid' has failed to work? So many times government effort accomplish the exact opposite of it's stated goal. More commerce can only help. Trade and be friends with each other and with other countries. If only the US gov't would follow this advice, perhaps someday soon it will.

The most effective interventions will be culturally competent, spiritually centered, and possess great systemic efficacy. The solution is easy to implement given the culturally restrictive reality, and face value contradiction in a completely Islamic society. The methodology or "Minhaj" inherent in the Islamic Way o life can be the greatest asset to those seeking constructive actions and social transformation.

The Pakistan government should stop building nuclear plants and use the money the USA gives them to help their population. Of course, this will not happen, and until the government cares more for the people than themselves, the lives of the Pakistan people will never change.

The best way to reduce the poverty in many parts of the world - not just Pakistan - is for government to foster economic growth. With economic growth comes stability and jobs. Government can provide the framework for businesses to develop and well planned well managed businesses will prosper, grow and provide more jobs: income for food clothing shelter and for some special individuals the making of more businesses. India and many developing countries have done just that. Where the government sees itself as a ruling class, and takes from the people, the people suffer. How many times have we seen leaders pillage their country's wealth for their own purposes: Marcos in the Philippines, Qadafi, Mubarak, Assad, Arafat(whose wife now lives in Paris), the Political Class in USSR, etc...
Business and even big business is the driving force to economic success for countries. China is a growing economy getting millions of people out of poverty by adopting it's own form of capitalism - unfortunately China is doing this with less regard for personal freedom than we would like to see.
Well - that's just a few thoughts. Check out Three cups of Tea, and watch Slumdog Millionaire. I'm glad I was born in America but any country with a government that fosters business and provides it's people with basic human rights will do.

I am a fundraiser and working on an intervention project in Pakistan. It is difficult to find funds for a project that helps the poor to help themselves. Three priorities education, health and water are the aim of the project. The take up has been excellent as local people understand that the younger generation has to become learned to stay from the ills of societal disadvantage that has been imported and supported by their government.
This support needs to continue, then we will not have grim realities reported.

i am very un happy. all these prblems happen because pakistan became areligious muslim country.every where in the world in muslim aii these happenigs.remedies for this one is we should be religious. religious activity must be stopped.

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