Last week this
column detailed what a strong year the Pakistani
economy enjoyed. In fact, it has been a strong three
years. Growth has averaged almost 7% per annum.
But what does all this mean to average people? Is
growth going to yield social progress? Is there
any evidence that the Musharraf era has seen any
improvement in the lives of the less fortunate?
Answering this question is not as easy as it sounds.
First, the ability of the government to gather statistics
is limited, and nowhere near the ability of the
US government for example. The last census was done
in 1997. Every five years or so the government does
a standard of living survey called the HIES or Household
Income-Expenditure Survey. The last full one was
in 2000. These periodic surveys are the only real
hard look at the state of the Pakistani household.
Many writers and commentators make off-the-cuff
remarks about rising poverty or unemployment in
Pakistan, but these remarks are not based on actual
data. Mostly they reflect the political agendas
of the commentators. Anecdotal evidence can be highly
misleading. Not only is there the obvious problem
of narrow sample size, but trends such as urbanization,
creation of slums, and population growth can make
interpreting the evidence of one’s own eyes
difficult. If the population of Pakistan doubles,
while the poverty rate stays the same, the number
of poor seems to double, and the crush of beggars
intensifies. Even if the poverty rate were to decline,
the absolute number of poor can still rise, but
to reduce the proportion of Pakistanis with severe
poverty from 3 in 10 to 2 in 10 is still a desirable
The government is just completing a new survey of
77,000 households called the PSLM. Full data will
be available at the end of the year, but significant
findings were released and included in the Economic
Survey of Pakistan in June.
These findings show some very encouraging trends.
The percent of housing units that consist of a single
room only declined to 24%, compared with 38% in
1998 and 51% in 1981. Homes that were owned by their
occupants increased from 81% in 1998 to 87% now.
The percent of households using electric light increased
from 70% to 84%, while those that cooked with natural
gas rose from 20% to 30%. Tap water availability
rose from 24% to 39% of households. Flush toilets
are present in 54% of homes versus 41% in 1998.
Clearly there has been a significant rise in the
living standards not just of a narrow elite, but
also of a broad section of society.
Education also shows significant progress. Literacy
rate has risen from 45% in 2000 to 53% in 2004,
showing an annual rise of 2%. For urban males the
rate is now 78%, and for women it is 62%. Literacy
is defined as the ability to read a newspaper and
write a simple letter. The real literacy gap in
Pakistan is in rural women, where the rate is a
dismal 29%, although still a very healthy jump from
21% in 2000. School enrollment is rising rapidly,
with gross primary school enrollment reaching 86%
compared to 72% in 2000.
In health, there also has been progress. Immunization
rates for infants reached 87% in urban and 72% in
rural areas, compared with 70% and 46% respectively
in 2000. Life expectancy in 2003 reached 64 years,
slightly better than India’s 63. Infant mortality
is down to 73 per 1000. Population growth has finally
dipped below 2% per year, although still running
faster than India or Bangladesh. The number of doctors
in Pakistan has reached 113,000.
Overall, the better management of the last five
years has resulted in the lives of real people improving.
Pakistan remains a very poor country, and is far
from being a Switzerland. But lofty goals take sustained
effort to reach. Progress has been made, much more
is left to do. Comments can reach me at Nali@socal.rr.com.