Pakistan’s depressing state of human development – 10 Feb 2023

Pakistan has seen two major flooding events within the span of a decade

Rich countries have reluctantly pledged resources to help poorer countries cope with climate-related ‘loss and damages’ being caused by their reckless industrialisation. Pakistan has seen two major flooding events within the span of a decade, and the devastation caused by floods this past summer was unprecedented in scale. The 2022 floods have not only wreaked economic havoc in Pakistan but are exerting a major toll on human development.

According to the last UN Human Development Report, Pakistan has gone down by seven slots in the Human Development Index (HDI) ranking for 2021-2022. In 2020, Pakistan’s HDI had already fallen by two notches, placing it in the low human development category, due to its insufficient education, health, and income indicators. Now Pakistan ranks 161 out of 192 countries. Life expectancy at birth in Pakistan is a little over 66 years. The average Pakistan receives only eight years of schooling, and the gross per capita national income is just over $4,600.

Pakistan has made steady progress in terms of improving its HDI since the early 1990s. In part, the steep decline in Pakistan’s HDI ranking in 2021-22 is due to methodological reasons. In 2020, the UNDP ranked 189 countries, whereas in 2021-22, 192 countries and territories were included in the index. However, a bigger reason for Pakistan’s lowered HDI ranking is due to its relatively modest progress compared to other countries. Pakistan is now trailing far behind other regional countries in human development.

India presently ranks 132nd on the HDI index. Bangladesh is doing even better with a 129th ranking. Sri Lanka was placed 73rd on the HDI index due to years of impressive human development, although its position will probably be seriously impacted in next year’s ranking due to the ongoing economic turmoil in the country.

Pakistan has the highest infant mortality rate in South Asia and the lowest life expectancy in the region, barring Afghanistan. Pakistan is facing a severe health crisis and yet its healthcare system is not being provided the resources it needs. Pakistani hospitals have only 6 hospital beds per 10,000 people. The doctor-to-patient ratio is also extremely low, with 1 doctor for every 1300 people.

Government expenditure on education is also insufficient and inefficiently utilised. Teacher absenteeism and inadequate school infrastructure remain major problems in the public sector. The quality of education provided by low-income private schools is also not much better. A recent study by Aga Khan University tested student performance in grades 5, 6 and 8 in both private and public schools across the country. This study found more than 90 percent students at the primary and secondary level to have performed dismally in math and science exams.

Pakistan has also not been able to impart adequate technical and vocational education that provides its immense labor force market-driven skills. A significant proportion of the formal workforce in the country is under-skilled and inadequately remunerated. The country also has a large informal sector, which is unregulated and where exploitation of workers, especially of women and children, remains rife.

Pakistan coped well with the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the lingering impact of the flooding this past summer will continue to exert further pressure on Pakistan’s HDI ranking for quite some time, even though the HDI for 2021-22 was released in September 2022, after the massive flooding event.

Despite skyrocketing inflation, soaring joblessness, and worsening security, which will further dampen economic growth, the attention of our policy and decision makers is riveted by a vicious power tussle which will not abate till a new government has assumed power.

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