Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is the only party-or it would be better to say an exception in the country- which is sensitized to the grave issue of poverty and intends to alleviate it through multiple interventions. This fact is reflected in the party’s original slogan: “Roti, kapra aur makaan; with the extension “ilm, sehat, sab ko kaam” (Bread, clothing and shelter; education, health and jobs for everyone) in it when the party announced its manifesto for the next general elections a few days.

All these things are directly related to poverty reduction in society and PPP strikes upon these issues by suggesting intervention at both policy and administrative levels. Though Pakistan has made some progress in poverty reduction over the years, it remains a key area which needs to be focused on and placed in top priorities for any political party which wants to bring socio-economic change in our society. The PPP Chairman rightly stated, when he unveiled the party manifesto, that our genesis is in “Roti, Kapra & Makaan” and reaffirmed the commitment that all people particularly the poor and marginalized ones would be protected from hunger and food insecurity.

The party addressed the issue since its foundation when it raised the wages of working class after coming to power and its successive governments in the centre and provinces did the same. In its manifesto for the upcoming general elections, the Bhook Mitao Programme (“Hunger Eradication”) is a novel idea that the party leadership has formulated to help the people of this country who struggle with food insecurity. The poor lot would be provided nutritious food at affordable prices and subsidizing the food products for the common man. Another revolutionary step the PPP proposed in its manifesto is “from social protection to poverty reduction”. This programme would address the wide range of risks and vulnerabilities of the poorest. The PPP in its last government in the centre kicked off a gigantic Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), which empowered the poor women across the country. The success of this programme is depicted from the fact the PPP’s successor in the centre, after the peaceful transition of power, continued this programme.

The PPP now wants to revitalize this programme to bring in a paradigm shift in society. The success of this programme has also been acknowledged worldwide as it targeted the poorest successfully, ensuring an improvement in food consumption and empowerment of these women. The party is right in its approach when it believes that innovative solutions would be sought on the lines of BISP for the poverty reduction. While BISP helps the poor women across the country through cash transfers, it proposes to initiate the “Peoples Poverty Reduction Programme” to lift families out of poverty through innovative schemes. The party wants to replicate it at the centre after its successful execution in Sindh. This programme would help the poorest families though asset creation and income generation for them by provision of interest-free loans and vocational trainings for the poorest families to start their own business ventures.

Why does the PPP want to replicate this programme at the centre? There is a strong reason behind it - this programme has already been successfully demonstrated and executed in 8 districts across the province of Sindh. The programme has reached almost 900,000 women in Sindh and helped the beneficiaries to set up small ventures for financial support to their families. This is an incredible programme, along the lines of BISP, that has helped to lift the families out of poverty by empowering the women of their families. This unique idea, floated by PPP leadership and implemented in Sindh, needs to be replicated across the country, where large populations continue to live in abject poverty. Indeed according to the federal government’s findings, four of the five poorest districts are in Balochistan, where poverty levels are alarmingly high. The poorest district is Kila Abdullah with 97% of the population is considered to live below the poverty line, followed by Harnai 94.2%, Barkhan 93.6%, Sherani 90.6% and Kohistan in K-P with 95.8%. In Punjab, Muzaffargarh (64.8%) and Rajanpur (64.4%) followed by DG Khan 63.7% and Bahawalpur 53% are the poorest districts. It is interesting to note that all these districts are part of southern Punjab, which has been neglected over the years. The more alarming indicator is the intensity of poverty, as each poor person lacks access to half of the indicators selected for measuring poverty. The findings show 60.6% of Pakistan’s population does not have access to cooking fuel, 48.5% do not complete schooling, almost four out of every 10 people (39%) do not have any assets and over 38% of the population live in a one-room shelter.

About one-third of the population does not have access to health facilities. PPP’s programme has been successfully executed and has been acclaimed internationally, which empowered the women in Sindh’s poorest areas. This programme would be scaled up to the national level to help poor families attain freedom from extreme poverty. PPP’s manifesto explicitly states that “freedom from hunger” would not only improve the physical health of the nation but would also nurture its skills and expertise to be a useful citizen of this state.

 

The writer is a freelance contributor.