More resources needed to alleviate poverty

By Salman Siddiqui

Published in The Express Tribune, December 31, 2019

KARACHI: Under its flagship poverty alleviation programme ‘Ehsaas’ (compassion), the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is providing interest-free microfinancing to around 80,000 people every month in a bid to help them start a business.However, the country needs far greater resources to improve lives of 60-70 million people living below the poverty line and lift them above it.

“The biggest challenge is that the requirement (for resources to fight against poverty) is massively high while the resources available remain low,” Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) CEO Qazi Azmat Isa said while talking to the media on Monday.

The divide between the rich and the poor has widened significantly around the world with Pakistan being no exception.

“Government statistics and district rankings released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggested that there was merely 4% poverty-stricken population in Lahore. However, the number stood at a substantial 96.6% in Killa Abdullah district. The poverty across the 32 districts of Balochistan – excluding Quetta – remains above 70%,” he said.

“(Around) 39% of the population, which is a very large number translating into around 60-70 million people, is living below the poverty line in Pakistan,” Economist Dr Ishrat Husain said the other day.

The economic slowdown for the past two years is estimated to render millions jobless and substantially widen the segment of the society living below the poverty line by millions.

“We are considering increasing the maximum limit of the interest-free micro loan to Rs100,000 per applicant compared to Rs75,000 at present,” Isa said.

Pakistan reduced poverty by around half to 12% of the population in 2015 compared to around 25% of the population earlier.

The change of rules to measure poverty at across the world in 2015 again widened the circle of people living below the poverty line in the country. During that year, the world started measuring poverty by including education, health, drinking water and residence standards as well. Earlier, poverty was measured only keeping in view the economic conditions, he said.

Talking about Ehsaas Programme, he said almost 99% people who avail microfinance repay the loan on time (12-18 months).

“This is helping at length in beating poverty in Pakistan,” he said. “We started the programme with Rs3 billion which has now expanded to over Rs13 billion through re-rolling of funds.”

Pakistan – a welfare state

PTI government came into power with the slogan of transforming Pakistan into a welfare state similar to Medina in 2018.

“So this (Ehsaas Programme and microfinance) is the first step towards transforming Pakistan into the state of Medina,” Governor Sindh Imran Ismail said.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan is focused towards the nation. He has great concerns for the people. He has initiated the single largest poverty alleviation programme, Ehsaas (compassion), in history,” he said.

Interest-free loans are helping the poor segment of society earn bread and butter and also enabling it to provide jobs to other people.

“The government has allocated Rs5 billion (for this year) to help people start their own businesses,” he said.

PTI’s members present in national and provincial assemblies are helping the government make the programme successful. “They are helping people get registered in the programme,” he said.

Under the programme, loans worth Rs13.8 billion have already been disbursed to 413,390 borrowers, of which 46% are women.

In Sindh alone, interest free loans of around Rs500 million have been rolled out to over 15,000 borrowers out of which 70% are women.

The initiative draws funds from the Government of Pakistan, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Microfinance is one of the four major segments of the programme.

The other three are transfer of assets like cows and grocery shops, provision of monthly assistance to the poor segment under the Benazir Income Support Programme and vocational training.

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