Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ammi ki yaad and the dilemma of localised development in Pakistan

An Eid TVC by Shan Foods touches the lulled-to-sleep chords of millions of hearts beating, otherwise mechanically, in pardes (abroad).

“… Ammi ki bohat yaad aa rahi hai bhai… ye bhi koi Eid hoyi bhai?”

(I’m missing mom a lot… what kind of an Eid is this?)

Although agriculture still remains the single largest localised employer of labour (40 per cent), yet services and industrial sectors have registered an increasing trend of employment over the years. Hence, the burgeoning movement of labour from underdeveloped to relatively developed cities and foreign countries adds to the ever-growing number of pardesis forced to work and live away from their families. Similarly, a large number of Pakistanis work in the USA, UK, Saudi Arabia, UAE and EU countries. Interestingly, according to State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), workers’ remittances amounted to $14.97 billion in 2014-15 and are equivalent to about 60 per cent of annual exports from Pakistan.

Over the past 68 years, Pakistan’s development has been satisfying and yet disappointing. It is satisfying because its per capita income grew by a tenth and reduced poverty by more than one half. But the different growth and development models adopted, rather arbitrarily, by successive governments have contributed to income inequality, rural-urban divide, and dislocation of labour from home towns. Above all, the development pattern in Pakistan has led to a social, emotional and spiritual void and alienation in the working class.

The map of socio-economic development of Pakistan comprises only a few major cities such as Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Faisalabad, Sialkot and the likes. Since most of the facilities pertaining to education, work and better living are available exclusively in these cities, human resource from all over the country is forced to leave their homes behind in pursuit of education and work. This overcrowds these cities creating rather ironic justification for arbitrary spending of budget for providing health, education and transportation infrastructure facilities; enormous spending on roads and the metro bus project in Lahore is a vivid example.

Resultantly, 80 per cent of national resources are consumed by a few cities and the big keeps growing bigger.

Since development in Pakistan is not localised and is rather inequitable and skewed in favour of big cities, it is of little surprise that students from rural areas and least developed, small cities are forced to go to Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta to pursue education as all the reputed public colleges and universities are located there. Similarly, the labourers have to go to Faisalabad, Sialkot, Manga Mandi, Lahore and Karachi for earning bread and butter for their families where they live under rather insufferable circumstances with as many as five to 10 labourers sharing one room or even worse. Their opportunity cost for higher studies or employment is parting with their parents, siblings, the warmth of their hearth, and their social realities.

Being humans with flesh and blood, life is not easy for these pardesis. Abida – who grew up in the warmth and affection of her parents and whose day was left incomplete if she did not massage her parents’ feet at the end of the day – was brought to the crossroad some 15 years ago. The only possibility for her to continue graduate studies came at the opportunity cost of going away from her parents from a small south Punjab village to Lahore. Left upon her, Abida would rather discontinue her studies but again, she would not disobey her parents’ wishes.

While half of her being attended classes at the University of Punjab in Lahore, the other half roamed restlessly around her parents. Now, when Abida reflects upon her gains and losses, she believes the two parts of her being would hardly be one and that her emotional and spiritual loss is far worse than her material gains. She also thinks of her lost years, away from her ageing parents, when they needed her the most but she could not be there with them without being able to reverse time.

Same is the story of the labouring sons, brothers, husbands or the fathers who are compelled to find work in a far-off city or a foreign country. They live in rather inhuman conditions but every time they call home, they do not protest of their misery as the ones they leave behind do not complain about theirs. Yet millions of humans are compelled to live in pieces which never come together but only occasionally to make a whole.

Yes, technological advancement has made it easier to talk over the phone or Skype and travel in hours what would have taken days otherwise but this only does the damage control; it’s not the solution. The solution is planning and implementing localised development. There are innumerable replicable models of localised development all over the world. Economists and development experts agree that concentration of industry at locations closer to raw materials and other inputs allows for a finer division of labour in the industry than would be possible if the industry were diffused over a wide area.

Countries like China, Switzerland and even India incentivise setting up industrial units closer to the areas with readily available raw materials and other inputs. This reduces freight and input costs leveraging efficient production. On the other hand, the industry is regulated to provide jobs to the locals on one hand and contribute to the development of the vicinity under corporate social responsibility on the other. Similarly, public sector jobs, in many developed countries, are offered on county or district basis instead of recruiting through federal or provincial public service commissions and allocating posting stations rather subjectively.

Pakistan is rich with natural and human resources and there exists enormous, though untapped, opportunities to develop localised industry and businesses leading to localised development. For instance, central Punjab (Sahiwal, Okara, Pakpattan) is known for its superlative milk production but the nearby milk processing industry is located in Lahore. Same is the case with food processing industry. The job market is concentrated in Lahore and Karachi mainly, which results in overcrowding of population, arbitrary spending of development budget, and skewing development away from smaller cities and towns.

It is never too late. The state of Pakistan can still save millions from emotional and spiritual alienation by providing localised employment opportunities. This would not only enhance Pakistan’s GDP manifold but would also contribute to equitable and sustainable development led by healthy brains and hearts.

from The Express Tribune Blog

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