With the country currently embroiled in the Afghan-USA imbroglio, domestic issues have been on a backburner. In the unprecedented scenario created by Covid-19, a plethora of socio-economic issues have further defaced the internal setup of the country.
One such example is the sorry state-of-affairs of the energy sector. This has manifested in frequent power cuts, soaring inflation, food insecurity and accompanying humanitarian issues like unemployment, intolerance, gender violence and even murder.
Due to circular debt, currency devaluation and large inefficiency, load-shedding has increased manifold. As a resident of Islamabad, I have witnessed a surge of panic due to the unscheduled outages in power supply for high-end sectors – this affects foreigners and diplomats, who had been unaccustomed to living in the pre-electric era until now. Recently, rains intensified the predicament as the twin cities remain engulfed in prolonged power blackout. Islamabad Electricity Board (IESCO) has demonstrated incompetence in eradicating extended periods of unannounced loadshedding, tripping and low voltage.
As per the 2021 reports from the World Bank, our unemployment rate has spiraled to 5% and poverty rate to around 40%
Covid-19 has taken a toll on Pakistan’s economy as industrial and agricultural productivity have diminished and inflation has increased. Further investigations reveal that unprecedented population growth and urbanization and are long-term culprits behind all sorts of socio-economic debacles. They are culminating into an alarming situation whereby we are headed towards a ‘Malthusian trap’ as manifested by shortage of food. There is a taboo against contraceptives, family planning and sex education which has withstood the test of time.
Consequently, as per the 2021 reports of the World Bank, our unemployment rate has spiraled to 5% and poverty rate to around 40%. The results have not only manifested in poor living conditions but aggravated mental and physical well-being. A major dark side has been a rampant increase in the crime rate, ranging from theft to even murders propelled by intolerance and frustration. Despite ranked as the safest city of Pakistan, this year Islamabad fell victim to the largest recorded crime rate in its history.
School-closures due to the lockdown and general indigence have intensified the plight of the education sector. Out-of-school children, inequity and juvenile delinquency are on the rise. Children have become involved in drug abuse, underage drinking and street crimes due to declining mental health, anti-social tendencies and apathy regarding social evils.
The Single National Curriculum has come under scrutiny as it seems irrational. Instead of upgrading public schools, the private schools are being forced to lower down their standards. Sindh simply refused to implement it saying that it disregarded cultural diversity, after Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board became the sole judge of syllabus.
In retrospect, the enduring socio-economic issues have become a political albatross in Pakistan. It is crucial for all stakeholders to settle political differences and unite to unravel these herculean tasks. The need of the hour is for Pakistan to make a paradigm shift in policy-making. Transformation and reform must be prioritized in key matters of unemployment, poverty, corruption, inflation, climate change, decentralization of resources, overpopulation, education, energy crisis and circular debt. The regulatory framework must be adaptable, nuanced, resilient and sustainable. For successful outcomes, we will need strict compliance by all ministries and regulatory agencies – made possible not only by suitable government policies but also active civic participation.
The writer has completed her BSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of London and underwent training programmes under the National Assembly, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and South Asian Strategic Stability Institute among others.