Thursday, February 10, 2011

Undernourished labour with low productivity

February 7, 2011

AN under-nourished worker is unable to maximise production. The nutrition level, if improved as required, can add 2-3 per cent to the GDP growth. Experts attribute low productivity in agriculture to malnutrition of farm labour.

The appalling state of malnutrition in the countryside of the resource-rich and fertile Sindh is the result of grinding poverty and low productivity in all economic activities.

Many complain that while tons of grains and other farm produces go waste due to official negligence and mismanagement, millions in the province have to sleep without enough food.

Officials in the provincial food, agriculture, rural development and planning and development departments argue that many plans have been put in place to fight the underlying causes of poverty, create employment opportunities and boost people`s income.

But those, who critically look at such government`s initiatives, say the situation on the ground refuses to improve รข€“ perhaps because of official inefficiency, corruption and under-utilisation of development budgets and absence of effective monitoring and evaluation of such uplift plans.

Senior economic planning officials in the provincial planning and development department (P&DD) opine that factors such as mal-distribution of income, transfer of resources from the agriculture to urban areas and unemployment, are some of the causes of low-intake of nutrition by the impoverished people.

Poor households across the province spend around 75 per cent of their income on food and healthcare. A study found that 36.3 per cent of the people surveyed in Sindh consumed less than 1,700 calories a day and another 25 per cent consumed between 1,700 to 2,100 calories per day.

According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2006-7, a vast majority of rural households are more than 10 kilometres away from basic services that include district administration headquarters, ambulances and maternal and child healthcare centres and hospitals.

Rural populations` access to drinking water through a range of methods such as tube-wells, boreholes or hand pumps account for more than half of such sources. But only 2.8 per cent of rural households in the province use an appropriate water treatment method, such as boiling or filtering.

An independent development economist, Dr Javed A. Ansari, said poverty and rural-urban disparities in the province continue to spiral up because of bad governance, rampant corruption, inadequate budgetary allocations and their misappropriation or poor utilisation.

He, however, believed that the soaring poverty, which had intensified malnutrition, was unlikely to improve until there was increased investment on health, education and basic infrastructure.

“Besides, there is a strong need to finally put nutrition at the centre of development so that a wide range of economic and social improvements that rely on nutrition, can be realised,” said a senior rural development planner in the provincial rural development department.

The province`s fertile farmlands yield surplus grains and vegetables, but these remain unaffordable for millions of people on account of soaring prices and falling incomes.

Escalating food prices have forced financially-battered families to divert funds utilised for education and healthcare of their children to kitchen bduget,” remarked Dr Fawad Ali of the P&D department`s health section.

Pakistan People`s Party MNA Nawab Yousuf Talpur claims that he has often drawn government`s attention towards people`s social and economic hardships, without no positive outcomes as yet.

“I`ve raised issue of massive grain losses and worrisome state of education, health and ruptured basic infrastructure on the floor of the Parliament. I have asked the public representatives, on a point of order, whether they are destined to ruin fertile and resource-rich Sindh, which contributes more than 70 per cent of the country`s total revenue, accounts for some 65 per cent of oil and more than 70 per cent of gas,” he said.

He recalled that he had also highlighted issue of non-availability of quality storage facilities for farm produces during the last budget speech of the federal finance minister.”

Officials in the provincial food department said: “There are some nefarious elements in the government who foil efforts for building modern silos because they get heavy kickbacks and bribes when renting spaces for storing grains.”

Dr Khalid Pervez, who is providing healthcare services at a health facility in Al Jamkanda village of Karachi`s Bin Qasim town, believes that adequate spending on health, education and rural development could turn around the situation of poverty and malnutrition in the province. But, unfortunately such social spending gap had translated into the grinding malnutrition, rise in health diseases, illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and unsafe water and sanitation.

Sadiqa Sallahuddin, a prominent rural and health development expert of the Indus Resource Centre, believes that remedy to malnutrition in the province lies in increased spending for alleviating, what she described, `wild poverty`.

She remarked: “Despite so many socio-economic uplift initiatives and whatever health budget allocation and spending, Sindh remains the most backward in all walks of life. It is because there are some pro-active forces having mala fide interests, who want to keep the province trapped in a socio-economic mess. However, nefarious designs of such unscrupulous forces are only aimed at watering down/bog down endeavours of progressive forces, because, they are those who want to see the province driven on the path of socio-economic development.”

Landlords, so-called public representatives sitting on treasury and opposition benches, corrupt bureaucrats, mafias, among others, were, among the tough challenges to the province`s overall development. These forces hamper every initiative taken for uplift of education, health and political empowerment of the masses, she believed.


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