in defense of poverty alleviation

This was brought up in the office and it was angry-making, because it was just such a classic illustration of the criticise-with-no-understanding mentality; after all, thought requires effort. The response was published much later, the full text of which can be found here. In retrospect, it really does sound quite militant – here the editor has neutralized the ending. One would think the writer had some kind of stake in things.

Those who cannot do, judge. The recent pronunciation by the Cabinet’s Economic Coordination Committee — nullifying a decade of poverty reduction efforts by the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) — is maddening proof.

The sweeping dismissal is based on the premise that poverty levels have increased since the Fund was established. This fails to account for a host of exogenous factors that have battered the local economy, from war to earthquakes to the worst floods in recent history. While it is fair to demand tangible indicators of the organisations’ success, it is equally fair to demand that demographic change; political volatility; years of conflict; foreign intervention; and natural catastrophe be factored in when assessing its contribution.

When ministers criticise it, their accusations ring hollow. It takes incredible gall to say that $1.2 billion dollars dedicated to poverty reduction strategies have gone to ‘waste’. It would be too cliche to talk about the dollars that have been siphoned by hungry government officials. Instead, it is apt to mention that expenditures have been tracked and are associated with a large number of projects having the specific objective of sustainable economic growth.

A second criticism at the Committee’s meeting was that the PPAF does not have a single holistic strategy for poverty reduction. It would be convenient to have a neat, overarching plan for a place where the economic situation is never static, and a diverse set of problems exists in each individual province. In practical terms, there cannot be a single overarching plan for development, period.

One reason why the results of the $1.2 billion did not immediately become visible is that the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund and its partner organisations have been investing in people.  It is local stakeholders and the generation that is currently in schools who will ultimately assume ownership for local economic development.To strengthen them takes a little bit of time, but since they are going to be around for a while, they are worth the effort. Kamran Akbar, Chief Operating Officer of the PPAF, put it quite beautifully at the closing ceremony for a recent training session held for community activists and entrepreneurs. Turning to the white board, he wrote the phrase “Hast-o-lud” which in English means “is and was”. I think the point he was trying to make was that there cannot be dependence on something that might or might not materialise. (Original)  There cannot be dependence on something that might cross the thin border to “was” – for instance, I might add, the national governments of Pakistan. 

If snarky, at the time it was heartfelt. Published in the Express Tribune, 10th February 2011.

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