By: Raja Taimur Hassan
Islamabad: The fall of Roman Empire was a major event in human history. One of the principal causes of destruction of Romans was the vast ‘inequality’ of fortunes. The death knell of education and literacy, lack of employment and advanced economic interaction, and growing government corruption and political instability were the major contributing factors responsible for the collapse of central Roman state.
Is Pakistan not plagued by all these factors?
Pakistan has major challenges of inequality, where income, gender, health and educational inequalities exist in extreme forms.
There are over 25 million school-age children are estimated to be out of school, over 37 lakh people of our labour force are unemployed, over 100 million households are still living in multidimensional poverty, half of total population is food insecure and over 40,000 children die every year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation in Pakistan. A long list goes on. But the question is:
Would these rising inequalities in Pakistan lead us toward destruction? My answer to this particular question is ‘Yes’.
We cannot rule out the link between these rising inequalities to violence, political instability, and social fragmentation. These growing inequalities are creating instability in the country. It has widened the gap between rich and poor, which harms society, poverty reduction, and development.
According to the economic Survey of Pakistan 2013-14, per capita income in the country rose from $897 in 2005-6 to $1,386 in 2013-14, despite deteriorated internal security and frequent natural disasters. However, public spending on health and education has become reduce and priorities have given to infrastructure development. Whereas, spending on health and education is 0.40 percent and 2.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) subsequently.
If we take stock of different indexes and rankings around the world, such as economy, human development, gender equality and prosperity etc, Pakistan almost ranks poor or fall in low categories in all rankings. This is all because of keep ignoring our people, especially the oppressed and marginalized segment of our society. We always forget that human beings are central to all developments.
To improve its ranking, country’s needs to uplift its society through addressing all types of inequalities by investing in people’s capabilities. Government needs to change in its spending priorities and focused should towards social sector development. If we give access the poor and middle class on the equitable economic resources and make sure their participation in the democratic process, we than have a more sustain and prosperous nation.
Fiscal inequalities are also, vivid. Most of the tax is collected from the lower or middle income class. Indirect taxation in Pakistan hit the poor harder, whereas taxing the elite is very low. Fighting inequality and wealth would bring justice to the society and uplift the growth. A Progress tax regime can be a game changer.
Currently, Pakistan’s one province (Sindh) reportedly has high malnutrition rate and highly food insecure. The media reports shows that drought and famine in Tharparkar (District of Sindh) claimed lives of 29 children in past one month and mounting death toll increased to 194. Apart from it, government negligence is adding fuel in the fire.
This food inequality also has connotation with land distribution and water management. Half of the population is landless. Only five percent of land owners own two third of the total land. Bulk of our farmer community is of small farmers, of which, 65 percent farmers own less than 5 acre of land. We have to have justice with land distributions and land reforms are need of the hour.
There is needed to take bold action on all type of inequalities immediately. It’s now or never situation. If there is political will then governments can ensure universal health and education, they can ensure access to land, agriculture and improve food security and they can ensure gender equality and social justice.
A right based social mobilization can help improve situation. Social movements can help and mobilize people to raise their voice for their rights. Brazil, Bolivia and Sweden are examples of the same, where active movements have improved social justice and wealth distribution. An active civil society can also help frame and implement pro poor legal regime, which in turn can reduce poverty and improve income distribution.
The writer is a public policy analyst and works at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad.He tweets at @rajataimur786.
Note: The article first publish in Express Tribune.