Sustainable poverty reduction requires reducing vulnerability and building resilience

By:  Marc-André Franche, Country Director UNDP Pakistan

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Malnutrition in children under five has shown no improvement in the last 46 years. ILLUSTRATION Raja Taimur Hassan

Islamabad: In the last 2 decades, most countries have registered significant improvements in human development. Now, vulnerability and the impact of crises and disasters are undermining the hard won progress or slowing down its growth.  The annual growth in Human Development Index (HDI) value has declined in Pakistan from 2 percent in 2000-2008 to almost zero during 2008-13.  The 2014 UNDP Human Development Report (HDR) 2014 launched in Pakistan on September 18 demonstrates that progress cannot be sustained without building resilience.

The report highlights two crucial types of vulnerabilities influencing human capabilities: life cycle and structural vulnerabilities.

Life cycle vulnerabilities are the result of peoples’ life histories, with past outcomes influencing present exposure to and ways of coping with vulnerabilities. Lack of investments or poor outcomes at the early stage of life – prenatal and early childhood- have the highest impact on human development than investments made at later stages. Unfortunately in Pakistan, vulnerabilities at the early stage of the life cycle are the highest. In 2011, the national nutrition survey found 43.7 percent of the children stunted; from 41.6 percent ten years before. Malnutrition in children under five has shown no improvement in the last 46 years. It worsened to 44 percent in 2011 from 42 percent in 2001.

Investment with youth – those between 15 and 24 years old – are also critical. Unfortunately, youth unemployment rates are higher than other cohorts of populations at both global and national levels.

The structural vulnerabilities are generated from social, legal institutions, power structures, political traditions and socio-cultural norms. Structural vulnerabilities are manifested through deep inequalities and widespread poverty. Despite huge achievements over the last 15 years, particularly in Asia, 2.2 billion people or 15 percent of world’s population are living in poverty. In Pakistan, 44.2 percent of the households live in poverty, according to the multidimensional poverty index.

Geographical locations also contribute to structural vulnerabilities. Three quarters of the world’s poor live in rural areas. In South Asia, 86.3 percent of the multidimensional poor people live in rural areas. Balochistan is among the poorest 15 sub national regions in South Asia.

Different crises have pervasive adverse impact on human development. The conflict in Swat for example, displaced around 142,000 families. The 2005 earthquake killed 73,000 people and inflicted a cost equivalent to four percent of GDP. According to the National Disaster Management Authority, over the past 67 years, there have been 21 major floods in Pakistan which have inflicted a cumulative financial loss of more than $37 billion and 11500 casualties.  The latest flood caused – again – significant damage in AJK and Punjab and hundreds of people have perished to date.

Persistent vulnerabilities create a vicious circle where both progress is undermined and resources needed to recover increase.  Countries need to build resilience and capacities to address vulnerability and prepare for and recover from crises. Resilience is about ensuring that state, communities and global institutions work to empower and protect people. It is about enabling the disadvantaged and excluded, to realize their rights, to express their concern freely, to be heard ad become active agents in shaping their destiny.

There are at least five lessons from the report and global experience which are central for Pakistan’s future.

First, the provision of basic social services empowers people to live the lives they value. Social protection, including unemployment insurance, pension programmes and labor markets regulations can offer coverage against risk and adversity through people’s lives. The impressive progress of Nepal towards the Millennium Development Goals is mostly because of the social protection program. One commonly held misconception is that only wealthy countries can afford social protection or basic social services. The evidence is to the contrary. Norway enacted mandatory workers compensation law in 1894 at a much lower per capita income stage than where Pakistan currently stands.

Second, timing of the intervention is critical because failing to support the development of capabilities at the right time is costly to fix later in life. Investment at early childhood and youth has much higher impact on human capabilities than investment at a later stage of life.

Third, unemployment – particularly of the youth of Pakistan – entails high economic and social costs. Policies are needed to support structural transformation, increasing formal employment and regulating conditions of work as well as reducing vulnerabilities and securing livelihoods of the work force in informal sector.

Fourth, persistent vulnerability is rooted in historic exclusions. The women in patriarchal societies, black people in South Africa and United States, religious and ethnic minorities in Pakistan, Dalits in India etc. encounter discrimination and exclusion due to long standing cultural practices and social norms. Responsible and accountable institutions and measured to enhance social cohesion prevent conflict and violence especially in situations of unequal access to resources.

Finally, natural disasters expose and exacerbate vulnerabilities, such as poverty, inequality, environmental degradation and weak governance. Serious investments in community based disasters risk management in Pakistan and regional cooperation on early warning system between India and Pakistan on disasters like floods can be highly effective.

Pakistan’s investment in resilience today is the ultimate win-win: reducing adverse impact and costs and freeing resources for additional investments where it matters most.

Note: The article first publish at UNDP official website.


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