Oct 24, 2010

Out of sight

Floods cannot be the only excuse for not achieving the MDGs

By Afshan Ahmed

The Millennium Declaration to attain development goals (MDG) in 2000 was a milestone in the international cooperation, inspiring 192 UN member states including Pakistan to improve the lives of billions of people around the world. Pakistan is lagging behind in achievement of these goals and the Government of Pakistan, in its report to MDG secretariat, gives more excuses and reasons to lag behind rather than proposing a viable layout and solution for future. Current floods in Pakistan have destroyed most of the social and civil infra structure in almost 75 districts in Pakistan and would require another decade to put the life at normal track, making achievement of MDGs even difficult.

Out of the above mentioned 75 districts, 24 districts of KP have been adversely affected. According to the Provincial Education Department's initial assessment almost 1000 schools have been completely destroyed during the flood in KP only. Here it is pertinent to note that the education system in KP is already marred by terrorism turning many girls schools into ghost schools. Education sector in Sindh is also hit badly due to recent floods where actual loss is still being estimated. This would hamper Pakistan's efforts in improving gender disparity index in Pakistan resulting into increased social exclusion of girls with low enrollment ratio especially at secondary education level.

Floods cannot be the only excuse for not achieving the MDGs. One needs to look into government allocation and spending on education sector too. Even before floods this sector was hit by governance disaster with only 2.05pc of GDP allocation; 10.9pc of exiting schools were without building and 37.7 percent were without a boundary wall besides lacking other facilities such as drinking water, toilet and electricity. No wonder we failed to achieve our MDG target on education so far.

Reduction in infant mortality is another MDG that we missed badly. Pakistan has one of the highest infant mortality rates in region even worst than Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. The progress report on MDG fourth series shows only 1 percentage point increase under Fully Immunized Population Proportion between 2004-5 and 2008-9. Except for Punjab, all the remaining provinces have shown a decline in percentage in immunization coverage. The situation will be further aggravated by floods where according to UN, almost 3.5 million children are at risk of deadly diseases in the flood affected areas.

Towards the goal of improving maternal health Pakistan needs to achieve fifty percent more in next five years what it has done so far. Due to current damages health delivery system has been also affected and life of hundreds of pregnant women is at risk. In many flood-hit areas, hundreds of patients have reported with skin infections, diarrhea, gastro, mental stress, anxiety, high blood pressure and dehydration.

Floods have already destroyed and would continue to destroy the livelihood assets of almost 20 million people. Majority of them were dependent on daily wages or cash crop sale. They have not only lost their livelihood assets but operating markets and institutions too resulting in increased vulnerability and deepened poverty.

One million tons of wheat stored at railways platforms or in flourmills has been destroyed and the price of the commodity has already risen by Rs125 per 40 kg. The supply of vegetables, fruits, and grains is badly affected. Rice crop in Sindh and sugarcane crop in KP is completely damaged, all of this would not only result into severe food crisis in months to come but also be a major blow to Pakistan's efforts towards reduction of hunger and poverty by fifty percent.

Pakistan's record in not very impressive as far as progress on MDG 7 (environmental conservation) is concerned. Area under administrative control under provincial forest departments (irrespective of the fact whether it has any plantation or not) is considered as forest. Even by this definition there is no significant increase in area under forests since 1990-2009. It is widely assumed that massive deforestation was one of the root causes of floods in KPK. Progress on conserving biodiversity was bleak too. Pakistan has been allowing the Arab princes to hunt black tiger and other threatened species for last many decades. Due to floods many of these species including Indus dolphin suffered even badly and are further threatened.

GDP per unit of energy has been adopted as a proxy for measuring energy efficiency which is highly irregular since 2004. Pakistan has the largest fleet of vehicles running on CNG in South Asia and seems to meet at least one of the indicators on sustainability of environment. However, the challenge is to ensure the provision of demanded fuel at reasonable cost especially after the disrupted transportation system. A national Environment policy has been formulated along with well equipped national center for drought and early warnings but it has to be integrated with zoning of land to deal with any future calamities.

Pakistan's environmental fragility can be assessed due to current rains which are also being attributed to global warming. Usually countries doing better on MDG1 (poverty reduction) face a failure on MDG7 as it is often perceived that development leading to poverty reduction would have negative affects on environment. However, in our case we are failing on both ends.

In November 2010, the world leader will gather in New York to review the progress towards MDG. Perhaps the delegation of Pakistan would be looking at bright side of the floods -- an excuse for not delivering on MDG goals. However, one needs to remind the policy makers that natural calamity can be avoided turning into human disaster by right priorities and in our case MDG never seemed to be our first priority to begin with. We need to think of development beyond millennium development goals and for that particular purpose need to build not only our case for international community but also need to mend our acts at domestic front.

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