Last Wednesday, we left Quetta for Pishin. The roads of Quetta, which are otherwise inconveniently congested all day, were deserted at this early hour and we traveled from Sariab Road to Airport Chowk within a few minutes.
Then we started our journey towards Pishin district of Balochistan, which is located 60 kilometers from Quetta city. The road to Pishin is mostly good except for certain patches which are under construction. After a pleasant journey of 45-minutes, we were in Pishin’s official jurisdiction.
Our first stop was at the regional office of the Balochistan Rural Support Programme (BRSP), a semi-government organization that is implementing a European Union-funded Balochistan Rural Development and Community Empowerment Programme (BRACE). This is a five-year program with funding of Rs3.77 billion for rural development and community empowerment covering 2.7 million people in nine districts of Balochistan, including Pishin.
We were briefed about the project by Mansoor Khan, an employee of BRACE. In his early 30s, Mansoor lives in Quetta but commutes daily to Pishin for work on his motorbike, a daunting task that he has been doing for the last seven years.
He said that a Poverty Scorecard Survey (PSC) was conducted from 2017 to 2019 to determine the poverty level in all nine districts of the program. According to this survey, 51 percent fell below the poverty line in Pishin, which is the fifth most populated district in Balochistan.
Based on my observations during the visit, this ambitious program has benefited the local community in three ways. First, it has generated awareness through social mobilization and community education. Abdul Hayee, a government teacher in his mid-40s, is the president of Local Support Organization (LSO) Zaland in the Kamalzai Union Council (UC) of Pishin. This LSO was created for community mobilization under the BRACE program for people of Kamalzai UC, which has a population of three and half thousand.
Hayee uses the platform of this LSO to educate the local population which is mostly associated with farming and gardening.
Most local communities are benefiting from the interventions of BRACE and appreciate it. At the same time, there are a few conservative communities who are resisting
Among other things, LSO Zaland has delivered four sessions on the prevention of sexual harassment to 19 parents, explains Hayee. This is indeed a great feat for an otherwise conservative society. Hayee also educates the people of his UC about the harmful effects of using pesticides in the farm fields. He has an unusually strong grasp on climate change and uses it to sensitize the local populace about the importance of the conservation of the environment.
The second benefit of the program which I observed in the field is the contribution towards livelihood generation. In Pishin district alone, 20 people have been employed for the administration of this program and almost 150 people work as volunteers with stipends. This program also has tailormade initiatives for the economic uplift of society.
For instance, Abdul Wajid, a resident of UC Kalamzai was provided an Income Generating Grant (IGG) of Rs50,000 under this program. He used it to buy two sheep and expects to earn Rs60,000 per year from them in the next few years.
Inayat Ullah, a tyre puncture vendor in UC Toor Shah, was provided Rs20,000 under Community Investment Fund (CIF), a revolving fund for small loans to the community members. Inayat is using this money to expand his repair shop and enhance his monthly income by few thousand. The amounts mentioned seem very little from the standpoint of urban life but they mean a lot for the lower strata of the society.
Furthermore, in the afternoon, I met Hayatullah who was working in a tailoring shop in Pishin Bazar. In his mid-20s, with very little formal education, he was selected for a three-month tailoring course under the Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) component of BRACE. He learned tailoring at a vocational training institute in Karachi, with all his boarding and lodging sponsored by BRACE. “Now I earn around Rs14,000 a month,” he told me.
He added that he had also applied for a loan under BRACE and if approved, he would use it to establish his own tailoring shop.
The third apparent benefit of this program for Pishin was the investment in physical infrastructure at the grassroots level. Under the Community Physical Infrastructure (CPI) component of this program, a solar-powered water supply scheme was established for the residents of UC Kamalzai. The total cost of this scheme was Rs2.4 million out of which 80 percent was provided by the BRACE and 20 percent was contributed by the community so that they can own the project. Now, they are getting water supplied to their homes through this solar-powered project which pumps water even if there is no electricity, which is the case most of the time in Pishin.
Most local communities are benefiting from the interventions of BRACE and appreciate it. At the same time, there are a few conservative communities who are resisting help from BRACE. According to Mansoor, the residents of Surela and Ibrahimzai UCs have resisted all efforts by BRACE to accept help because of their pre-conceived notions against the social development sector. That is really unfortunate as now these impoverished communities will not even get the only possible help that they could get in this like other UCs of Pishin.
While the philanthropic ventures of BRACE have made a visible difference in uplifting the marginalized communities, the role of government is completely missing. During my visit to multiple UCs in Pishin, the role of government did not stretch beyond law and order and poorly developed roads. The government is neither helping the impoverished people in livelihood generation nor is it providing them any meaningful vocational training or assistance with infrastructure development.
Additionally, the government has failed to provide even the two basic amenities to the citizens; water and electricity. Electricity is only supplied for four hours during the day in most rural areas of Pishin. The same is the case with a water supply and the communities are on their own to install their water supply schemes and pay for their maintenance.
While programs like BRACE are helping to fill the vacuum of government assistance, there is a limit to what they can achieve. BRACE has funding of Rs3.77 billion spread over nine districts. This is too little to assist all the impoverished people in Pishin and other districts. In any case, this project will end in June 2022. Therefore, the government has to utilize its own resources for rural development and community empowerment in Pishin and other districts.
Before dusk, we left Pishin for Quetta. After a quick journey of 45 minutes, we were back in the provincial capital. A peek from the car windows gave an impression that we had reached a developed urban city after visiting the under-developed oblivion of Pishin.
The writer is a journalist and researcher. He can be reached on Twitter: @iAdnanAamir