Poverty: No More in Pakistan

The incumbent government has successfully eliminated poverty.

Let me clarify. Eliminated only from official national statistics.  Officially, there is no recent data on poverty.

A few days ago, I was in need of recent poverty figures for Pakistan. I went to my usual source, the latest Economic Survey of Pakistan but to my bewilderment, the entire chapter on Poverty is missing. From my days spent poring over the Economic Survey at IBA and various internships during that time of my life, I was pretty sure I was looking in the right place. Not sure whether the Ministry of Finance had just forgotten to upload the chapter, I tried googling latest poverty figures but nothing came up.

Yes, the Ministry of Finance has done away with the entire chapter on Poverty. Why? Because the government has simply stopped collecting/releasing data on it. Why bother with it? I mean if you can’t deal with something which is progressively getting worse, it is just more convenient to ignore it.

While it is only this year that the Poverty section has gone missing, the Poverty section from the Economic Surveys of previous years is mere lip service anyway. Poverty figures have not been calculated in Pakistan since 2006. Subsequent editions of the Economic Survey essentially beat about the bush, cite the 2005-06 figures, discuss poverty trends in other countries (forget Pakistan, let’s just talk about other countries instead!), and boast about the various poverty alleviation measures our government has undertaken. To fluff up the section, it also talks about things such as education and literacy, growth and inflation statistics, all of which already have separate dedicated chapters in the Economic Survey.

There are also very meaningless gems such as:

 “The government has subscribed strongly to the inclusive growth with human face.”

Every year, they conclude by saying how foreign remittances are doing amazing things for poverty in the country. Sigh. It’s poverty and crazy high inflation which is forcing foreign workers to remit more and more to Pakistan. (This, sadly, is just one of the many examples of how data is selectively interpreted). Maybe the good people at the Ministry of Finance felt bad about repeating the same things for the sixth consecutive year. So this year, they have made a small change. The ‘Poverty’ chapter has been replaced with another called ‘Social Safety Nets’. With similar fluff on inflation and GDP growth as previous years minus any talk of poverty, it is a pretty redundant section. For some inexplicable reason, simulation results from an ADB study on the effect of food price increase on poverty in South Asia are given to make up for the lack of any relevant figures.

They do mention this though:

“A committee of poverty experts has been constituted in Planning and Development Division to estimate Poverty Headcount as well as poverty correlates. The committee is working on its task in a professional ways considering all dimensions of poverty and report of the committee will be available shortly.”

Hopefully, it will soon. These figures are still more than 6 months overdue though, despite the timeline given by the Planning Commission last year apparently.  Maybe next year, the husband will have official poverty statistics to quote in his annual commentary on the history of the ‘awam dost’ budget.


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