Rising Poverty and Unemployment in Balochistan

Balochistan and Pakistan falsely assert that the economic and political situation is improving.

balochistan-poverty-unemployment

Credit: Zareef Rind

Balochistan is synonymous with problems and security concerns.

The threats to the lives of political activists and journalists in Balochistan continue to rise. Contrary to claims of Chief  Minister Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch, the security situation in Balochistan has deteriorated since he has assumed office of chief executive.

Along with security related problems, poverty and unemployment are huge challenges in Balochistan and there is no clear effort by the Baloch government to reduce unemployment and reduce poverty.

Poverty and unemployment portray a bleak picture for Balochistan, according to a report published by Social Policy and Development Centre. In 2013, nearly half of the Baloch people lived below poverty line. That percentage has increased over the last year.

Presently, 52 percent of households live below the poverty line in Balochistan according to the report titled “Clustered Deprivation” published by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute. This means that more than half of the population of Balochistan earns less than $1.25 USD per day. These statistics speak volumes about the prevailing poverty in Balochistan. It goes without saying that poverty rates in Balochistan are highest among all four provinces of Pakistan.

Moreover, the unemployment rate in Balochistan is 4 percent, according to the data provided by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. This figure is hard to believe as the level of unemployment in Balochistan is sky-high. Excluding Quetta, the rest of the 31 districts in Balochistan offer no employment opportunity whatsoever for the people. Agriculture was the primary source of livelihood in Balochistan and it has been badly affected by the electricity shortage. The unemployment in Balochistan is much higher than what the aforementioned figures reflect.

Increased poverty and unemployment consequences

The rise in militancy in Balochistan can be loosely attributed to poverty rates in the restive province. Rather than admitting that Balochistan is breaking new records of poverty, the government of Balochistan and Pakistan hide the reality by making the false claim that the situation is improving.

To rub salt to the wounds, the federal government has declined to start recruitment on 3,000 jobs in federal government departments which are reserved for Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a semi-autonomous tribal area in northwest Pakistan. For the politicians and bureaucrats in Islamabad, unemployment and poverty are non-issues.

The reasons for the current surge in poverty and unemployment in Balochistan can be found in an apathetic policy adopted by the federal government towards the province. The federal government has never seriously made efforts to facilitate job creation in Balochistan’s private sector even when the province was peaceful. The Baloch government has also not made serious efforts to persuade Islamabad for facilitating direct foreign investment in Balochistan and developing basic infrastructure in the province.

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In last five years, hundreds of billions of rupees have been received by the Balochistan government from the federal divisible pool. The share of Balochistan increased considerably after passing of 7th NFC award in 2010. Hundreds of billions, if spent fairly, could have been a huge stimulus for the economy. Unfortunately, those funds have gone into the pockets of politicians and bureaucrats at the expense of the Baloch people. The Balochistan government is equally responsible for the region’s current dismal state of affairs.

In the budget for 2014-15, Balochistan has allocated development funds for different projects, the majority of which will not contribute in poverty alleviation. The selected projects are mostly roads and buildings. While there is no denying the importance of creating new infrastructure, these should not be the first priority. The reason funds are allocated for these types of projects is that kickbacks can be earned easily and at a higher rate.

Ideally, the development funds of Balochistan should be spent on projects which achieve the following objectives: employment creation, increasing purchasing power of people and increasing the government revenue.

The Balochistan government should divert the major chunk of development funds to agriculture, irrigation, fisheries, mining, forestry and livestock sectors. The majority of the population is dependent on these sectors for their livelihood and it makes perfect sense to develop them.

Peace and security in Balochistan’s future does not appear promising. This does not mean that poverty alleviation and the youth generation should be ignored as an after-thought. A meaningful and determined approach by both the provincial and federal government can achieve the target of improving Balochistan’s living standard.Yet based on their previous records, it is doubtful that both governments will ever embark on such a mission.

Adnan Aamir is a freelance researcher, analyst and columnist. Adnan is also editor of The Balochistan Point, an online newspaper from Pakistan. Follow him on Twitter @iAdnanAamir and visit his blog http://www.adnan-aamir.com. Read other articles by Adnan.