By Shahid Asad

Current statistical data released by USA and resolution of European debt crises indicate a steady global recovery. But shortages of basic inputs and inability of Pakistani economic managers to find viable alternatives are impeding economic recovery and eroding government credibility. The recent State Bank and international donors’ response clearly indicate lurking nemesis. Meanwhile economic decision makers at the highest levels are merely passing the blame on domestic and international affairs, while the economy is running out of basic inputs in every sector.

The most visible shortages for commerce, industry and agriculture are gas and power loadshedding. All Pakistan Textile Mills Association has already indicated loss of export revenue to the tune of six billion dollars, Local Chambers of Commerce and industry indicate that gas and power outages have already caused downsizing. Prominent industrialists lament lack any viable plan by the government to regulate gas and power monopolies. They fear that lack of political will to privatise, reorganise coupled by lack of practical steps in LNG import, construction of large darns and Pak-Iran pipeline may hamper economic revival in long run as well.

A former bureaucrat indicated that federal and provincial governments blew four years away pinning the economic woes on past regimes, but in the election year are now restricting to non issues. Lahore Chamber of Commerce Researchers estimate that 700,000 labourers have lost their living due to loadshedding in 2011-12 alone. Despite the shortfall in supply, the government has restricted its efforts to curtailing demand. Demand management may offer a short term relief yet it is no substitute for the supply increase. Federal Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and now Naveed Qamar issued deadlines without improving electricity generation. Politically motivated rental power projects are now a source of embarrassment for the entire regime. Experts claim that government has no clear grasp of the matter. Instead of addressing the real problem of circular debt and cheap renewable energy, they are wasting time and money on demand management.

The next biggest shortage is water. In a single generation our nation has seen per capita water availability dwindle from 5,000 cubic feet to 1,500 per person per annum. The United Nations definition of a desert region is where the per capita supply of water is below 1,000 per person per annum. India is in finishing stages of several dams on river Jhelum and Chenab. During the recent visit to Lahore, the Indian Water Commissioner Oranga Nathan openly refused to share critical information with Pakistan and claimed that is was not his mandate to release information to Pakistan. Yet the reluctance by his Pakistan counterpart to raise this issue on international forums as well as the International Court is beyond understanding. Foreign and Commerce Ministers did not bring up this issue while granting MFN to India. Attitudes like these are now raising anxiety among farmers.

Water and fertilizer shortages has now resulted in a ripple effect of fruit and vegetable shortages. State Bank of Pakistan reports clearly warned about the fall in the growth of all major crops has stalled. Politicians are falling over each other claiming credit for the record wheat output, but recent fall in mango, orange and fruit exports indicate changing trends. They conveniently forget that the wheat yield has not increased in the last five years. Only rise in support prices resulted in an over cultivation of wheat, causing a glut of supply. While vegetables and other crops have seen a proportionate fall in supply. The economy needs a viable water management plan for the coming decade. For the farmers of Pakistan, shortage of water alone is enough to break the spirits. The shortage of basic inputs like quality pesticides and certified seeds have done the rest.

Businessmen fear that leading politicians have restricted their vision to cheap political point scoring in election year, lack of grasp of economic issues and no visible cohesive action plans to address the basic input shortages may wear the public patience thin.