Human health and wellbeing have never seemed more essential to economic development than they are today. In the midst of a global pandemic, I am reminded of Pakistan’s greatest Development Economist and founder of the Human Development Index, Dr. Mehboob ul Haq’s words:
“People are the real wealth of a nation”
Our very own, Haq was the author of the first Human Development Report and paved the way for a new people-centered approach towards development.
However, with the passage of time the notion of human development is again shrouded in gross national production, where economic development is seen from the lens of mobility, aggregate consumption, and production.
Haq’s words are still a source of guidance on improving the lives of people:
“The basic objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives. This may appear to be a simple truth. But it is often forgotten in the immediate concern with the accumulation of commodities and financial wealth. ” (Human Development Report, 1990).
We must ask ourselves, where is the focus of development by governments around the world?
Pakistan: strengths and weaknesses
Recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan said “If we can build a nuclear bomb, surely we can make ventilators”. Ironically, the same argument was made before by a segment of the society critical of military expenditure and for that matter the current government’s inclination towards the military in general.
Clearly, there is capacity in terms of technical and financial resources to work on human development- the missing link is the willingness and direction of development by policymakers.
A flaw in development policies is the assumed relationship drawn between time and the fulfillment of a development goal. There is no fundamental association between the passage of time and human development unless it is a perpetual part of governments’ policies.
Read more: Economy of Pakistan and The Coronavirus
I centre my argument around this very notion; time to develop is never after 10 years, the time is now. Thinking about creating room and focusing on human development today will prevent policymakers from living in mere anticipation (of a better future).
The approach of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is also worth questioning; do future voluntary deadlines actually help nations achieve desired results or is there more to national consensus-building?
Obstacles stemming out of democracy
In developing democracies like Pakistan, the greater the duration of development planning, the less likelihood there is of it being achieved. This may sound counter-intuitive as we have always heard the phrases “plan for the future” and “long-term planning”.
The only problem here is that the future is preceded by so many variables that it becomes impossible to hold a steady course, especially for developing countries. The likelihood of development success depends on how quickly an elected government is able to execute an intervention.
Furthermore, elected governments are time-bound in the first place and cannot guarantee that their left-over work (due to any long-term strategy) will be carried out in the future should there be a change in government.
The aforesaid highlights a major obstacle in increasing spending on areas such as health, education, and environment.
As the🌍 is tackling #COVID19, @UN teams are supporting government & partners to save lives & livelihoods, provide equipment, prevent hunger & protect #HumanRights
Stories from @UEswatini @UNinGhana @ONUGuatemala @UN_Iran @UNMoldova @ONUPanama @UNinSomaliahttps://t.co/A0I2Z0K2ur pic.twitter.com/48Uuro4pP0
— UN Sustainable Development Group 🇺🇳 (@UN_SDG) June 10, 2020
For the first problem highlighted above, it is important to mention that Goal setting done at the global (UN) level and the relevant understanding conveyed to the policy-makers is not consistent with the mode of operation and political realities on ground (especially for Pakistan). Short-wins, mega projects, and inefficient spending are the name of the game in politics.
Emergence of a new development narrative
Today, as many are locked up in their homes not allowed to work, earn and consume, the traditional economy is bound to shrink in size. However, as long as there is a fundamental change in the definition of ‘wealth’ in the economy with greater investment in humans, the net result will be positive.
If the Government of Pakistan can ride this wave of a global consensus on health and wellbeing, it can effectively and expeditiously improve the standards of living for the neglected segments of the society.
Areas, where expenditure can be curbed, are road infrastructure, mass transit projects, non-essential defence expenditures.
Areas that need focus are: Primary, secondary and tertiary health care units, wealth redistribution schemes, primary schools, expansion of medical insurance, health and hygiene awareness campaigns, access to food and disaster preparedness.
A cohesive national narrative on economic growth is imperative to achieve desired improvements in living standards.
There can be no better time than today to say that the development narrative must shift from Aggregate Production (GDP) to Human Development and the time for this is now.
We have now observed that when there is a will to purchase essential medical equipment and even construct emergency hospitals, it can be done in a matter of weeks both around the world and in Pakistan.
Therefore, development planning must assume shorter time targets from years to months and from months to weeks. Incremental steps taken today for improving the lives of humans may not make headlines as unveiling motorways do, but will certainly fare better for the people at large.
Effect of 18th Amendment on the federation of Pakistan
Political parties seek power to control the Federation, as that is where the collection and distribution of revenue is carried out and is where the greatest political influence lies.
After the dust has settled from the celebrations of creating a true democracy in Pakistan (18th Amendment, 2010), a fundamental question that emerges post 18th Amendment is: Why would a province not part of the Federal Government work towards the improvement of its people knowing that its benefits shall be reaped first by the centre?
One of the fundamental flaws in implementation of the devolution of 17 ministries under the Federal carried out in 2010 was that the provinces were neither ready nor willing to take the responsibility of the Federation in their hands.
Read more: Unlocking the Economy – Keep Going
Beyond the lack of capacity amongst the provinces to make the most of the powers transferred to them, their unwillingness to have a unified approach in a Federation has left many things to be desired.
Ten years following the 18th Amendment, Pakistan is in a situation where a province led by opposition is unwilling to develop as part of a Federation-so that its political benefits are not reaped by the other- and the Federal Government is unwilling to wholeheartedly help that province for the same reason.
In a time where subtle but crucial human development interventions have become imperative, this has a major fallout on the common citizen who is caught in the middle of this political dilemma.
Twangar Kazmi is a development sector consultant and the Founder of Torque Communities. He has an experience of over 7 years working in the development sector. This includes noticeable work in Sustainable Development, Climate Change, Youth Leadership Development, Education, Employability Development and other related areas. His key areas of interest are Economic Development and Politics as a means to an end for the former. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.