Countering Poverty: ‘Ehsaas’ the real way forward?

Zeeshan Salahuddin

The ticking of ‘poverty bomb’ still reverberates amongst the masses of Pakistan. Currently, 38.8% of people in the country suffer from poverty in one or the other form, and 24.4% do not have enough money to satisfy their basic food and non-food needs, according to the official statistics. Efforts for poverty eradication have been undertaken time and again by various regimes with ‘Ehsaas’ program being the latest one. Launched on March 27, 2019, Ehsaas aims to reduce inequality, to invest in people, and to lift lagging districts.

A new component of combating hunger has been added to Ehsaas as the Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated a Langar (free food) Scheme in Islamabad on Oct 7. The project being sponsored by Saylani Trust, one of the country’s biggest welfare organisations aims to provide hygienic food to the poor and the less privileged segments of the society. “The government aims to open up 112 soup kitchens all over the country in the first phase of the Ehsaas-Saylani Langar Scheme to be completed within a year. The soup kitchens will provide food on an average to 600 people in the capital daily,” Dr Sania Nishtar, Ehsaas Chiarperson claimed. 

The hunger phenomenon in Pakistan has resulted into 45 percent of children suffering from stunting owing to under and malnutrition. The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa poses a staggering 48 percent stunting ration amongst the children and an acute malnutrition ratio of 17.3 percent. According to official statistics, Pakistan is losing 3 percent of its GDP to stunting every year. 

Under Ehsaas umbrella, various initiatives have been launched to combat hunger and malnutrition including a new community and health and nutrition drive to address stunting in children, the provision of de-worming drugs, iron, folic acid, micro nutrient supplements through government hospitals, creating awareness regarding breast feeding and the formation of a Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Coordinating Bodyunder the Prime Minister’s oversight. 

However, Ehsaas has a broader and larger scope in terms of poverty alleviation. Its mission statement mentions “the creation of a welfare state  by countering elite capture and leveraging 21st century tools—such as using data and technology to create precision safety nets;  promoting financial inclusion and access to digital services; supporting the economic empowerment of women; focusing on the central role of human capital formation for poverty eradication, economic growth and sustainable development; and overcoming financial barriers to accessing health and post-secondary education” as its stated goals. 

While creating safety nets, Ehsaas aims to make the government subsidies targeted  through the development of the new National Socioeconomic Registry 2019 ensuring multiple validations and follow-up reviews. Authorities look to convert the National Socio-economic Registry into a live registry for quick and online registration. 

Housing and urban planning is another issue confronting all the classes of Pakistan’s society. With urban population growing 3 percent annually, Pakistan has the highest urban relocation ratio in South Asia.  According to State Bank of Pakistan’s 2015 survey, urban housing was approximately 4.4 million short of demand across all major cities. If this trend continues, Pakistan’s five largest cities will account for the overall 78 percent of the total housing shortage by 2035. Ehsaas has a stated target of creating 10,000 homes for the orphans while Panagahs/shelter homes have already been launched in different cities. 

Poverty eradication remains a stiff challenge ahead with the economic uplift of poor being a multi-facet strategy. From food provision to housing, and from financial support to skill development of the less privileged class, the enormity of the task for Ehsaas equally presents the opportunity to make things happen.  

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