By Dr. Nayyer Ali

June 24, 2005

Social Progress

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 goal.
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


Deflating Japan

Bush’s Axis of Evil

Speaking to Non-Muslims

If Arafat Were Jinnah

The Shape of Things to Come

South Asia Expert Calls for Negotiations on Kashmir

Kashmir After the Cold War

Kashmir Quagmire: How It Started

Kashmir: Where We’ve Been

Make Way for the Euro

Will there Be a Muslim Palestine?

Careful, Careful

Our Growing Community

Pakistan’s Golden Opportunity

Musharraf’s Reform Plans

Pakistan’s Afghan Dilemma

Humanity on the Move

Strategies of America, Pakistan and Benazir

Winners and Losers

America’s Strategy Defang the Fundamentalists

The Noose Tightens

Pakistan in America

Musharraf’s Moment

A Sad Day for America, A Sad Day for Islam

Repeal the Blasphemy Law

Bush’s Stem Cell Compromise

The Depressing Stock Market

An Evening on Human Development

“Benazir” Takes Over in Indonesia

Race Riots in Britain

Global Warming or Just Hot Air?

Milosevic on Trial

Russia’s Collapse

Economic Recovery in Pakistan?

President Khatami’s Re-election

Lifting Sanctions on Pakistan

Israel’s Moral Burden

A Break in the Logjam?

The Second American Century

Pakistan’s Constitution

Dr. Lodhi in Los Angeles

Literacy: The Road Forward

Why Yusuf Can't Read

Literacy: The Glass is Half Full

Blowing Up Buddha

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Pakistan

Did You See the Moon?

Cornrows, Ali Khan, and Culture

Will the Children Go To Harvard?

Muslim Political Progress

Information Technology Gets A Boost

Sand and Oil

On Lieberman

Pakistan Builds A Tank

Kashmir in the Nuclear Age

Full Speed Ahead on Privatization

A Muslim France?

Too Much Food

Watching the Election Why Are We Hollywood’s Villains?

A Tyrant Falls

Taliban Victorious

The Walking Whale of Pakistan
The Joy of Air Travel?

The Amazing American Economy
Arafat and Jerusalem

Names For The Children

Population: Too Many or Too Few?

It Does Matter

Aziz Goes For Growth

The Military Government's First Budget

L'Affaire Salam

End Sanctions on Iraq

Third World Democracy

Light Weapons Trade on the Rise

Iran Reforms

Back to the Future

The Saudis and OPEC Mature

How Can We Help Pakistan Develop?

Report Card on Musharraf

IMF Vs Pakistan

A Candid Discussion on Foreign Policy Issues

A Sad Tale of Missed Opportunities

Cold War In Kashmir

Whither Afghanistan?

National Security and Literacy

Pakistan Votes

The People Win

What is an Islamist?

Selling the Crown Jewels

Still Not Government

One Year After the Taliban

Benazir's Folly

Iraq and Oil

Saddam and Iraq - I

Saddam and Iraq - 2

Muslim Democracy

Zakat and Capitalism

Zakat and Capitalism - 2

The Economy Picks Up

The American Military: Power without Limit?

Good Foreign Policy is Good Anti-Terrorism Policy

The Arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammad

Bush Takes a Gamble

Bush Attacks

Besieging Baghdad

Darkness in Saddam's Bunker

Piccadilly It Aint Qissa Khani Is Still Qissa Kahani

Ed Asner and Afghanistan's Progress

Bush Delivers a Roadmap

Liberation or Imperialism

The Roadmap

Economic Rebound

Musharraf in Los Angeles

Economic Growth will lead to Democracy

Trapped by Myths and Fantasies

The Surge in Karachi Stocks

Bush's Busted Budget

America's Broken Healthcare

Time to Buy Stocks?

Islam, the State, and Human Rights

30 Years after the Oil Shock

The Future of Oil Wealth

Pakistan, India and Human Development

Pakistan's Eid Present

Iraq, Democracy and Islam

The End of Saddam Hussein

Three Wins for Pakistan

The Islamabad Declaration

Kerry's Big Wins

Repeal Hudood and Blasphemy

Bush's Growing Vulnerability

What Has Aziz Done?

Bits and Pieces

The Growth of India

Chaos in Iraq

Bush Caves in to Sharon

Abuse at Abu Ghraib

Too Harsh, Musharraf

The BJP Loses

What Do the Jihadis Want?

The Pak Economy: Bigger than We Think

Is America Richer than Europe?

Prime Minister Aziz

Unbundling WAPDA

Musharraf's Uniform

Chess Game in Kashmir

Three States, Three Debates

What's Wrong with the Democrats?

Can Elections Bring Peace to Iraq?

Elections in Iraq

Can Generals Yield to Democrats?

IMF Give Pakistan an “A”

Improve Higher Education in Pakistan

A Framework for Reconciliation

Iraq’s Elections By

Privatizing Power

Bullish in Karachi

Palestinians Should Abandon Suicide Bombings

The F-16’s

Bush’s Social Security Plan

Growth and Investment

Patronage Versus Policy

Aziz, the PML, and 2007

Are We Running out of Oil?

Purchasing Power

Economic Progress

Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
© 2004 . All Rights Reserved.