South Asia is the fastest growing regions in the world yet poverty continues to prey on the citizens of some of the countries within the region. The region plays host to numerous poor people far more than those located in the Sub Saharan Africa (Husain, 2008).
While the economic growth measured in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been on the rise in many countries, questions persist regarding the use of the measure to appreciate the poverty situation within the region. In fact, poor people that live below $1.25 a day have increased over the last two decades.
This paradox of economic growth versus poverty levels within the country has prompted the debate on ways to counter the widespread poverty within the region. This paper seeks to make comparison of poverty situation in Pakistan and Bangladesh. This is in the manner poverty is manifested, the vulnerable social groups and ways in which the respective societies are responding to the high poverty levels.
Manifestation of poverty
On the one hand, it is almost impossible to quantify the levels of poverty in Pakistan. However, many economic indicators give an overall indication of high levels of poverty in the country. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimated that about 28% of Pakistanis lived below poverty line by the dawn of 2009 (Husain, 2008).
Coupled with a low human development index of about 0.57, the country also experiences widespread in income inequalities that are skewed towards the rich. This implies that 10% of the richest Pakistanis earn almost 30% of the entire income showed by various economic indicators (Husain, 2008).
On the other hand, Bangladesh reflects amongst the poorest countries in the world. Despite recording an annual economic growth of about 5% for the last two decades, the country grapples with endemic poverty.
Economic indicators show that Bangladesh remains poor and hugely unable to meet the needs of the ever-increasing population. Unlike in Pakistan, over 40% of the entire population lives below the poverty line. Wealth distribution in the country is also highly skewed.
Due endemic corruption, the countries continues to experience a widening gap between the haves and the haves not. Human development index (HDI) of the country falls way below that of others in the same region. According to World Bank, the country’s HDI estimates indicate a 0.54 level of human development that is apparently low.
While the two countries experience similar economic trends in terms of poverty, there are considerable differences in the way poverty is depicted. Besides, the causes of poverty are dissimilar.
Pakistan attributes the rising numbers of poor people to various factors. Primarily, poor governance remains at the heart of the poverty-laden country. By the beginning of 1990s, the country’s governance in the management of social and economic development presented the country with the biggest challenge in the fight against poverty (Sugata & Ayesha, 2004).
This has persisted up to now. Corruption and increased numbers of separatist movements has reduced the investments in the country. Such movements in areas as Waziristan have reduced the investors’ confidence and undermined the rule of law. As such, there have been cycles of political instabilities that have impeded the government efforts to counter poverty.
Additionally, the Pakistani society has been under military dictatorship for significant time. Democracy as such, remains limited in the country. This rapid dynamics within the country’s governance structure have not only provided loopholes for non-transparency, but it has also led to corruption. Some states of Pakistan are marginalized by subsequent regimes. Specifically, Baluchistan has been on the spotlight as a leading state in high poverty rates.
The rationale is that the state has been unable to make considerable social and political elites making it vulnerable to marginalization since the development strategies are given priority depending on the perceived beneficiaries (Sugata & Ayesha, 2004).
Bangladesh has also had her fair share of poor governance. The word bank rates the country as amongst the most corrupt countries in the world. Genuine efforts geared towards decreasing the numbers of poor people in the country rarely see the light of day and remain in the pipeline. Besides, the Bangladeshis are principally rural. Indeed, almost 80% of the country’s population has remained in the rural areas since independence.
Majority therefore, work in the agricultural sector. Considering the huge discrepancies between urban and rural contexts, it comes as no surprise that the rural areas do not have access to basic social amenities. These include education, health services as well as infrastructures.
According to the World Bank, more than 20% of the people living in rural areas suffer from chronic poverty (Husain, 2008). Efforts to counter the increasing levels of poverty have suffered immense challenges due to demographic and natural catastrophes. Of significant concern are the floods that have typified the entire south Asian region. Much of the country is low lying and is prone to extreme annual floods.
The floods usually damage their sources of livelihoods like crops and make it hard for the population to shrug off poverty (Haque & Zaman, 2005). Upon floods, many rural Bangladeshis result to money lending services in order to rebuild their lives. This does not only offer little assistance to the people but it also sinks them further into poverty.
Social Groups Affected by Poverty
The two countries are similar in the manner poverty is manifested along social groups. In both countries, women assume their respective gender roles that force them to be in their households rather than workplaces. Hence, poverty rates are usually higher amongst women than amongst men. The longstanding gender inequalities have seen women take the role of taking care of the children while men are expected to be the breadwinners. It is therefore expected that women headed households suffer from chronic poverty.
While many men leave their households in the rural areas and join the country’s workforce in the urban setting, occurrences of natural disasters such as floods affect the women. Additionally, social exclusion for poor women has been a characteristic of the south Asian region.
The socially excluded groups therefore are distanced from the decision-making processes of both their households as well as their country. Traditions and retrogressive practices have also compounded the woes of the women in Pakistan. Women are denied rights to own and inherit property.
Religious forces have also been an impediment to the empowerment of women (Lys, 2006). In fact, Pakistan Participatory Poverty Assessment (PPPA) points out that mobility of women has been hugely been restrained by religion. Women are unable to venture in liberal sources of economic empowerment like keeping livestock.
The fear of violence and increased instances of insecurity bind women from accessing opportunities for self-development. Gang rapes and customary practices as honor killings are still rife within the Pakistani society despite claims of their significant reduction.
The two countries are characterized by high levels of urban poverty. The few people who live in urban settings of both countries. Slums typify the urban settings hugely due to lack of sound policies that attempt to provide decent housing services to the urban poor. Street children and beggars are overly present in such cities as Islamabad and Dhaka. In fact, UNDP has asserted that the levels of urban poor in south Asian countries are unprecedented and are the highest in the word.
Lys (2006) says that the outcome of street children and urban poor has also provided a loophole for child slavery and child abuse where companies take advantage of the poverty-stricken nations in search for cheap labor. Just recently, sportswear company, Nike, came under scathing allegations of deploying underage Pakistani children into its labor force (Husain, 2008). This led to an international outcry with calls for the closure of the company.
The rise of extremist organizations in Pakistan is mainly to blame for recruitment of children who remain vulnerable into illegal organizations (Bhopal, 2007). This does not only increase the levels of poverty amongst children, but it also leads to continued insecurity within the country as the organizations are highly connected to terrorists. The assassination of political leaders has further deteriorated the conditions for the children in the streets who have to grapple with insecurity posed by the extremists.
Farmers are another social group that suffers immensely from poverty. In Bangladesh, majority of the people are employed in the agricultural sector. However, unpredictable weather patterns and extreme flooding continue to impoverish the farmers (Haque & Zaman, 2005). It is estimated that the country loses of ten million dollars in term of crops and households that are washed away by floods annually (Srinivasan, 2009).
The farmers therefore grapple with the situation of high levels of poverty that is perennial due to increase in extreme and drastic changes in climatic patterns. This is similar to Pakistanis who have also experienced severe flooding. In 2010, almost three quarters of the country was submerged in floods and immeasurable losses of harvested crops by farmers were experienced.
Initiatives to reduce poverty
There have been a myriad of initiatives to counter the high poverty rates. International development agencies such as the World Bank and UNDP have been proactive in initiating projects to reduce poverty in these countries (Srinivasan, 2009). Besides, international humanitarian organizations have been apparently present in the region to promote long term and sustainable development to reduce poverty levels and provide security to vulnerable children.
In Bangladesh, Northern Areas Reduction of Poverty Initiative provides an opportunity for women empowerment and poverty reduction. The World Bank launched the initiative with the objective of increasing the households’ income amongst Bangladeshi women. The initiative provides employment opportunities for women and vulnerable groups in textile and garment industry. Besides, it provides the marginalized groups with information and required technical skills for them to have a sustainable source of income.
It also targets the people transitioning from rural to urban life that is marred with unending challenges. The initiative has four components that it integrates in the overall reduction of poverty. They include raising awareness, establishing training centers, provision of training and coordinating the initiative to provide lifelong support.
Due to continued flooding in the region, hunger in Bangladesh is a common phenomenon. Such initiatives as The Hunger Project have been pivotal in addressing the plight of vulnerable groups in the country (Federal Bureau of Statistics). The project aims at reducing gender disparities and educating women and men on leadership issues.
This is done through training where the trained members of the society act as the leaders of development in their localities. The training encompasses campaigns against early marriages, corruption and hunger. The project values strengthened democracy within the country, increasing young people’s involvement in leadership in addition to ending gender-based discrimination.
In Pakistan, the World Bank recognizes that agricultural development is a key strategy to reduce poverty. However, the strategy is not sufficient owing to the rising numbers of people depending on non-farming sources of livelihoods. This acclamation by the organization has inspired some considerable and helpful policies that have steered reduction of poverty. The policies target to end gender disparity, reduce rural poverty, direct increased government spending towards rural areas, develop the non-agricultural growth and enhance livelihoods.
Effectiveness of the Initiatives
Reduction of poverty is a long-term venture according to UNDP. The initiatives that have been initiated by Pakistani government have had positive impacts. The economy has continued to increase its GDP on annual basis. The access to social amenities amongst the rural poor has improved although at a slow rate.
The vulnerability of social groups has reduced with review of government policies. There has been an increase in women participation in numerous arenas. Gender disparities have reduced significantly with women now taking opportunities that were previously perceived as male domains (Sathar & Shahnaz, 2008). In leadership, many women have taken their roles in politics and economic institutions. This has been due to continued increase in democratic space within the country.
However, instances of vulnerability of children to violence, abuse and trafficking remains a huge impediment to the overall reduction of poverty. United Nations agencies have identified the country as among the leaders in violating the rights of the minors (Mustafa, 2000).
Lack of access to basic amenities like education health services and water continue to typify the country. This implies that while the programs have been proactive in ensuring that gender inequalities decrease, much more needs to address the plight of the children and farmers (Federal Bureau of Statistics.).
Similarly, the initiatives in Bangladesh have yielded significant results. First, the economy has accelerated in growth. This has seen the country able to reduce the poverty levels by a rate of 1% every year (Husain, 2008). Women are beginning to assume positions in the society that were previously held by men.
Children’s vulnerability has reduced gradually although UNICEF explicates that the levels of vulnerability remains dangerously high. Due to exogenous pressure by international bodies to have the country embrace feasible policies, Bangladesh has been able to reduce unending instances of hunger and famine.
However, the two countries remain at the verge of environmental disasters partially due to local pollution and global warming. Incidences of floods have been amplified by extreme weather patterns that threaten to undo the few gains that the countries have achieved in the reduction of poverty.
In sum, Pakistan and Bangladesh represent countries in South Asia. While the economic and non-income indicators point out that over 28% of the population live below poverty line in Pakistan, over 49% in Bangladesh are poor (Srinivasan, 2009). The widespread poverty in both countries is manifested in terms of increased socio-economic disparities, vulnerability of social groups and lack of social amenities.
The causes of high levels in both countries is attributed to poor governance and policies, endemic corruption, social exclusion of poor people, natural catastrophes and high dependence on agricultural sector which is not sufficient for the population (Husain, 2008).
Amongst the groups affected by high levels of poverty are women, children and farmers. Gender inequalities due to traditions and customary practices have proved detrimental to the women. Besides, they have been apparently absent in the leadership circles and decision-making practices.
Children are vulnerable due to easy recruitment in the provision of labor for their households and other firms to raise an income for their impoverished homes.
As such, there has been a rise in the numbers of street children who fall prey to violent organizations, traffickers and companies that capitalize on child labor. Farmers on the other hand are constantly bombarded by unpredictable weather patterns, which lead to immeasurable.
To alleviate poverty, many international financial organizations and humanitarian agencies have initiated programs to provide sources of income for vulnerable social groups. The World Bank, IMF and UNDP are amongst the organizations that have initiated poverty reduction programs in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Besides, they have been vocal in appraising government’s policies towards the vulnerable groups. As such, some positive impacts of the programs have been witnessed in both countries. That notwithstanding, a lot needs to be done in reference to reducing overall poverty levels and vulnerabilities of social groups.
Bhopal, R. (2007). Ethnicity, race, and health in multicultural societies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Federal Bureau of Statistics. (2010). Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (2009–2010). Islamabad: Government of Pakistan.
Haque, C. & Zaman, M. (2005). Vulnerability and responses to riverine hazards in Bangladesh: A critique of flood control and mitigation approaches. New York: Wiley & Sons.
Husain, I. (2008). Pakistan: The Economy of an elitist state. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lys, C. (2006). Demonizing the other: Fundamentalist Pakistani Madrasahs and the Construction of Religious Violence. Marburg Journal of Religion, 12(2), 3-12.
Mustafa, K. (2000). Poverty Trends and Growth Performance. The Pakistan Development Review, 39(4), 1171-1191.
Sathar, Z. & Shahnaz, K. (2008). Women’s Autonomy, Livelihood & Fertility; A study of rural Punjab. Islamabad: PIDE.
Srinivasan, T. (2009). Data Base for Development Analysis: An overview. Journal of Development Economics, 44(2), 12-31.
Sugata, B. & Ayesha, J. (2004). Modern South Asia. New York: Routledge Publishers.