Pakistan’s unsafe water

By Hina Shaikh and Ijaz Nabi

Safe drinking water is a central plank of a country’s health strategy as it affects nutrition intake and therefore infant mortality, child growth, and the ability of adults to be productive. Exposure to unsafe water also leads to skin-related disease. For these reasons, access to safe drinking water is a right enshrined in the constitution and is a critical Sustainable Development Goal.

The Consortium for Development Policy Research (CDPR) recently brought together a panel of experts to discuss the current status of drinking water in Pakistan and what is being done to ensure that citizens enjoy this constitutional right.

Pakistan’s “water stress”

The panel distinguished between “water scarcity” and “water stress”. With the world’s fourth highest rate of water use, Pakistan’s economy is one of the most water-intensive in terms of cubic meters consumed per unit of GDP. Subsequently, water availability per capita has shrunk to under one thousand cubic meters by 2017 from over five thousand in 1951. Pakistan crossed the “water scarcity line’” in 2005, indicating a shortage of overall supply. With higher than expected population growth, this is likely to get worse.

The focus of the discussion was primarily on “water stress”, or the prevalence of polluted water that is unsafe to drink. Panelist Syed Hasan, Assistant Professor of Economics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, noted that Pakistan became a water-stressed country in 1990 and is expected to be among the most water-stressed countries in the world by 2040.

Panelist Hammad Khan, Director General of World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) Pakistan, pointed out that the level of arsenic in the water supply far exceeds the government’s own thresholds for contamination, which are in fact less conservative the World Health Organization’s (WHO) standards. A 2015-16 nation-wide survey by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) found that only a third of the 369 samples tested for water quality were safe for consumption. A separate PCRWR study conducted in 2011 found 100 percent of water samples in Lahore were polluted with arsenic. A study led by Joel Podgorski, a scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, found that water in two-thirds of the 1200 wells sampled across Pakistan exceeded the WHO-recommended threshold of arsenic. Based on this data, nearly 60 million citizens are estimated to be consuming toxic ground water.

Microbial pollution is also common. In cities, water becomes contaminated due to improper disposal of solid waste and continued usage of outdated water and sewage networks. Chemical pollutants from industrial waste also infect water. In rural areas, open defecation and animal waste are the leading sources of contamination.

Poor quality of water burdens the health sector, increases missed days of work, and reduces labor productivity. High levels of arsenic in water contributes to underweight birth, skin defects and miscarriages. Syed Hasan mentioned the burden of poor health outcomes in the form of waterborne diseases costs Pakistan 1.6 million disability-adjusted life years – and almost four percent of GDP.

Poor governance

Pakistan has been unable to incentivize conservation and efficient usage of water. Syed Hasan commented on the pricing mechanism and its failure to reflect the true market value of this critical resource. The tariff for water used for household consumption in urban Pakistan was last revised in 2004. Operation and maintenance costs incurred by water authorities continue to exceed the revenue they collect, while water metering covers only eight percent of the households.

Hammad Khan explained that if sources of water remain unprotected, the availability of drinking water will keep dwindling. Ground water once contaminated cannot be treated. The installation of filtration plants by Punjab’s Saaf Pani Company (see below), meant to cover all union councils in Punjab, are remedial measures – not sustainable solutions. The unrelenting adulteration of water sources despite decades of several dedicated water authorities in operation reflects a serious governance failure.

The government response in Punjab

Following devolution, water became a purely provincial subject. Punjab set up the Saaf Pani Company three years ago to ensure provision of drinking water in rural Punjab. The company’s progress is personally overseen by the chief minister.

Panelist Tahir Majid, Chief Technical Officer, Punjab Saaf Pani Company, agreed that despite being the Punjab government’s flagship initiative and substantial public expenditure, progress has been slow. A third of the water schemes in the province remain non-functional while 79 percent provide water that is unsafe for consumption.

The problem with Saaf Pani Company reflects a deeper problem of governance pervasive across several other sectors. When parallel governance structures are set up in the presence of existing departments, such as the Punjab Health and Engineering Department, inefficiencies slide in. The company saw several quick changes in senior management (some resulting in criminal inquires) and frequent changes in the operational design. This has resulted in delays and has not encouraged strong private sector engagement in the delivery of safe drinking water to the citizens.

After being heavily scrutinized for its performance, the company is now restructuring itself to improve delivery and remains committed to providing clean drinking water to Punjab’s entire unserved population of 60 million by 2025.

What can be done?

It is encouraging that “water-stress” can be overcome. Singapore’s example, cited by Syed Hasan, shows how the risk of extreme water stress can be countered by efficient regulation and management. Inaction, however, may result in a crisis similar to the one in Cape Town, a city that is now on the verge of rationing clean drinking water.

The panel suggested immediate steps Pakistan can take to tackle the water crisis and avoid the Cape Town outcome:

Set the right priorities: An over-arching water policy framework is critical. The National Water Policy, in circulation since 2004, should be updated in light of changes and approved.

Set water classification standards: Every country (including India, Bangladesh, and China) has water classification standards where all the water bodies are categorized according to their usage. This should also be done in Pakistan. WWF has offered to use remote sensing and GIS mapping to help government conduct this exercise. Authorities will then be able to ensure more effectively that water bodies classified for drinking purposes are kept clean and used for that purpose alone. Water classification will also help avoid disputes between different stakeholders (agriculture vs. industrial vs. household consumption).

Let prices work: Even though water is a basic right, it is a limited resource and hence water pricing is important. The fact that people pay for bottled water indicates that there is willingness to pay.

Mobilize community ownership: Community ownership is key to ensuring that water schemes remain functional and well-maintained. The WWF for example signs a legal contract with the community for joint ownership of the filtration plants it has provided.

Hina Shaikh is a Pakistan country economist at the International Growth Centre.

Drive cautiously down China’s Belt and Road


By Shahid Yusuf

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims to create a Eurasian economic corridor and a string of economic hubs anchored to Chinese cities,  thereby generating a development dynamic that is advantageous to China’s growth. The investment and trade generated by BRI could enable China to sustain a growth rate of 6 to 7 percent and double its GDP between 2010 and 2021. As of end 2016, $900 billion worth of BRI-related projects were planned or under implementation – with loans and credits from Chinese banks amounting to $1.2 trillion (not all for BRI projects). Chinese agencies claim that the BRI will eventually absorb between $4 trillion and $8 trillion.

But what are the benefits and risks for countries accepting BRI-linked financing to build transport and energy infrastructure?

To this day, the BRI remains a patchwork of projects without a well-articulated strategy backed by solid analysis of the potential benefits for China and countries that will borrow from Chinese entities to finance large infrastructure projects. This is critical if the politically less-than-stable countries in Central and South Asia with a poor track record of sound policymaking are to benefit from BRI. In order to service BRI loans, the investment in transport and energy infrastructures plus any associated technology transfer must attract private investment in tradable goods and services and increase export earnings from exports.[1] Whether such a virtuous spiral of investment and exports will ensue, is far from certain. Moreover, infrastructure building and mining on the scale envisaged could lead to severe environmental degradation absent the enforcement of strict regulations, which are either not in place or enforced with a light touch.

There are other reasons for proceeding cautiously down the Belt and Road. The terms and conditions of loans extended by Chinese entities are less than transparent. Furthermore, the governance and finances of the more than 50 Chinese state-owned enterprises that are responsible for major BRI projects are opaque, and their capacity to manage and implement complex transnational projects is untested. Contractual relations with such entities could prove to be tendentious if projects fail, the quality of work and materials is poor, or if lax environmental standards cause damage. The Tharparkar project in Pakistan is a case in point.

This context elicits the following questions and concerns that deserve closer attention and more systematic study.

Can China finance BRI projects to the tune of several trillion dollars from its own resources? And if not, will China need to tap the international bond market for the bulk of the financing? By doing so, its indebtedness would increase and it would absorb considerable risk associated with lending for long-term projects in countries such as Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Laos. In the end, given the current state of China’s forex reserves, will the outlay on BRI be an affordable but not game changing $25 billion per year?

China’s neighbors worry that the purpose of BRI infrastructure and connectivity is to further Chinese exports and geopolitical ambitions. Many are already on the slippery slope to deindustrialization and BRI could accelerate the process. Existing light consumer manufacturing would be imperiled and the likelihood of diversifying into more complex products would be greatly diminished because of China’s competitive advantage in a wide range of manufactures.

European experience suggests that cross-border transport infrastructure has not led to regional convergence. If anything, it has tended to increase regional disparities by making existing hubs more dominant and disadvantaging nearby regions in the hubs’ shadow. Rail links between Milan and Naples have strengthened hub economies while contributing little to the development of Southern Italy. A study of road infrastructure building in Portugal came to similar negative conclusions: greater accessibility did not improve the cohesion and purchasing power of less developed parts of the country.

To service loans from China and other borrowers, countries on the receiving end of infrastructure investment will need to greatly expand their exports and run trade and current account surpluses. Given recent trends in manufacturing and slower growth of world merchandise trade, is that likely? In 2016, China ran a trade surplus amounting to $250 billion with participants in the BRI. Could countries such as Pakistan (which runs a $13 billion trade deficit with China) possibly narrow and reverse the trade gap and run surpluses with its hyper competitive neighbor?[2] If they do not, what is the return to these countries in the form of long term gains from infrastructure? In other words, how much growth could BRI projects unlock by way of tradable goods and services? Furthermore, if highly indebted countries are unable to repay these loans, what are the consequences for Chinese firms and for their bankers?[3] Taking over assets that will need to be marked down would involve absorbing large losses.

What is the risk of BRI exacerbating the resource curse in countries such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan? Could the creation of the BRI trade corridor render them even more resource dependent and stunt their non-resource based tradable sectors?

So far, China’s projects in its own Western provinces have at best yielded modest returns. The profitability of China’s foreign direct investment in developing countries has also been low. This suggests that the cross-national infrastructure projects intrinsic to BRI will be costly to build and the financial returns are likely to be meager, at least in the medium term. Political changes in destination countries could easily affect project outcomes. Political risk could discourage participation by investors from developed countries.

Geopolitical issues need to be factored in. China’s actions have alarmed some of its neighbors – India in particular.[4]  Chinese closeness to and support for Pakistan could contribute to continuing friction between Pakistan and India. Political tensions within and among countries, sporadic violence (as in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province), and arms races in South, Southeast, and East Asia may undermine the BRI – as will continuing discord in the Middle East. How might these developments and others affect growth prospects is a key question.

Shahid Yusuf is Chief Economist of the Growth Dialogue at George Washington University and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of Pakistan’s Growth Story.

[1] Premier Li Keqiang referred to technology transfer as China’s, “golden business card”. Financial Times (2017, July 18th p.9).
[2] Between 2006/7 and 2015/16, Pakistan’s exports to China went from $575 billion to $1.63 billion. Meanwhile China’s exports to Pakistan increased from $3.5 billion to $12.1 billion (Source: Figures in the Financial Times indicate that China’s exports amounted to $16.5 billion in 2015.
[3] Down the road, servicing the loans from China will be burdensome for many countries. Chinese firms have already encountered problems with projects in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Chinese SOEs that are spearheading BRI, such as the China Railway Corporation, are themselves increasingly in debt to Chinese banks – CRC’s debts amount to $558 billion and these are rising largely because much of China’s 22,000 high-speed rail network runs at a loss (Source:,
[4] In response to BRI and disputes along its northern border with China have induced India to launch its own initiative extending from Africa to Southeast Asia variously called the “Spice Route” the “Blue Revolution” and SAGAR – “Security and Growth for all in the Region”. India is also investing $300 million to lease the 2,000 acre tract of land which is the site of the largely deserted Mattala Rajapaksa Airport adjacent to Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka in order to prevent a Chinese takeover of the facility and to control China’s access to the port that it has leased for 99 years (Source:,

Citizen Trust in Police: A Puzzling Paradox

Ali Cheema and Zulfiqar Hameed

Public ratings of the police have consistently been below the ratings of other institutions in Pakistan. Only 33% of Pakistani respondents in Pew’s 2014 Global Attitudes Survey agreed that the police are exerting a good influence on the way things are going in Pakistan. This was much lower than the rating given to courts (47% agreed), the Federal Government (60% agreed) and the Pakistan Army (80% agreed). Pew’s 2009 survey found similar differences as did the Gallup survey of 2017.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that less than 25% of respondents in the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives’ (IDEAS) Lahore Crime Survey (LCS) 2016 agreed that “the Lahore police are trustworthy.” Figure 1 shows that citizen trust in the Lahore police is low by global standards. The level of citizen trust in Lahore police is half the level found in London and urban centers in the U.S.

What is surprising is that that the Lahore police does much worse on citizen trust than the police services in London and the Urban U.S. despite the lower rate of victimization experienced by citizens in Lahore. The victimization rate in Lahore was 25% less than the rate in London and the Urban U.S. in 2016 (Figure 2). Low citizen trust in the Lahore police is even more surprising when one recognizes that more than 70% of the respondents in the IDEAS LCS 2016 reported that public safety had improved in their neighborhood compared to the last year. The co-existence of low citizen trust in the police with low victimization and a recognition that public safety has improved is a puzzling paradox!

What explains this paradox? We can begin to arrive at a solution by unpacking the reasons for low trust. The IDEAS LCS 2016 asked citizens questions about three important metrics: trust in police effectiveness, trust in police honesty and trust in police’s procedural fairness. We find that while half our respondents agreed that the Lahore police are effective, around 25% agreed that they are procedurally fair and only 10% agreed that they are usually honest (Figure 3). Interestingly, while citizen perceptions of police effectiveness are in line with global averages, citizen perceptions of police honesty and procedural fairness fall well below them. The verdict of citizens is that their issue with the police is not competence; it is poor processes of service delivery. Which parts of the policing process are adversely impacting citizen trust? We find that the First Information Report (FIR) registration system is a particularly pernicious cause of low citizen trust. Our evidence shows that the percentage of victimization incidents (reported in crime surveys) registered as criminal cases (reported in the police’s case registration data) – what we call the registration rate – was far lower in Lahore than in London and the Urban U.S. in 2016.

We found that the Lahore police registered only 7% of victimization incidents reported by citizens in the IDEAS LCS 2016 as FIRs. The registration rate in Lahore is much lower than the crime registration rate found in Urban U.S. (19%) and in London (42%). The IDEAS LCS 2016 asked victims who reported an incident but whose complaint was not registered by the police to provide up to three reasons for the police’s failure to register. 50% said that the registration process was complex and ad hoc, while another 40% said that the current system provides poor incentives to register crime. In short, the citizens’ view is that fixing the registration process requires reforming institutional incentives at the level of the thana (police station).

The IDEAS LCS 2016 also asked respondents to report the number of times the police demanded unofficial payments from them during the past year. 50% of complainants (victims whose complaint was recorded by the police) in the survey reported direct experience of corruption. What is worrying is that direct experience of complainants with police corruption is double the level experienced by non-complainants (20%). This difference is due to the high burden of unofficial payments associated with the FIR registration that is faced by complainants. Nearly 40% of complainants report registration as the reason for the unofficial payment, which is far less than the proportion of non-complainants (5%) who report it as a reason.

The main message from this evidence is that rebuilding citizen trust in the Lahore police will not be possible without reforming the FIR registration process. In our view, there is a strong case for institutionalizing an automatic registration system that registers cases on the basis of a complaint. We recommend institutionalizing this system in cases of crime against property (theft, robbery, burglary, dacoity, extortion and attempts at these crimes) where no one is nominated as a culprit at the time of the complaint. According to our data these types of cases constitute a majority of victimization incidents in Lahore and hence the reform can have a big impact, as it will be applicable to a large number of cases.

This simple reform can go a long way in restoring citizen trust and healing the broken relationship between citizens and the police. The question is whether there is political appetite for this simple reform?

Ali Cheema is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives.

Zulfiqar Hameed is associated with the Police Service of Pakistan.

The reports on which this blog is based can be found at:

Panama verdict: Behind most discontents lies a legal judgement

PanamaVerdictWhiteStarMohammadAsimMohammed Asim, White Star

By Osama Siddique

It is almost imperative for anyone who wants to be taken seriously these days to comment on the Panama Papers case. So here is my endeavour. But allow me first to provide some context.

Pakistan faces a crisis of justice. That is to say very few criminals are brought to justice and quite a few innocents are unjustly punished. A majority of criminal prosecutions fail due to obsolete evidentiary laws and equally obsolete judicial approaches.

The system also furnishes many legal and procedural loopholes to the mighty and the resourceful and offers few protections for the weak and vulnerable. Meanwhile, civil disputes take years to resolve in our courts, thereby consuming innumerable lives, wasting financial resources and often forcing the desperate or the opportunist to resort to criminal means.

Many people are also forced to settle their claims outside courtrooms — frequently with inequitable outcomes due to the inequality of bargaining power.

Such is the state of affairs at the institution entrusted with the delivery of justice that people have little confidence in the effectiveness of the judiciary. But you will seldom hear this being analysed in any great depth or with necessary seriousness from the ordinary citizens’ point of view. It is a yawn-inducing topic, not exciting and sensational enough to become the stuff of prime-time television.

To make matters worse, instead of frenetic efforts to assert itself, the judiciary appears to be on the retreat. The most recent capitulation is the meek surrendering yet again of the vital task of trying and holding terrorists accountable to military courts. The existence of a parallel and opaque system to punish crime only highlights the inadequacy of the mainstream criminal justice system.

This is quite apart from the separate and serious concerns regarding the military courts’ compliance with due process and human rights safeguards. There is a general tendency to think of such things as first world niceties in a country besieged by brutal terrorism. However, a state without a higher moral ground can eventually become indistinguishable from the violent and the lawless.

I digressed. I meant to discuss the Panama Papers case. But do indulge me a little more as I need to first broadly outline the main players in our system of justice as well as their respective challenges, for that is the milieu in which this case was adjudicated and decided. It is true that this system is fractured at several levels.

The police still searches for a clear post-colonial vision of goals and governance, lacks autonomy, has poor technical skills and faces many 21st century challenges with 20th century equipment and a 19th century mindset. The prosecution is fledgling, under-resourced, under-confident and, therefore, inadequate.

The prisons are unfamiliar with the concept of rehabilitation and probations, and parole services exist largely as concepts on paper. The judiciary often blames all these institutions for the overall failure of the criminal justice system.

There are two important things to note here. First, over the past few years – essentially in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – there are quite a few positives to report in all these departments and there are statistics to back improved performance (more on this at another time).

Second, these institutions are at least open to debate and critique, have mechanisms for political and public accountability and can boast of internal reform dialogues. Their internal state of affairs is not as fossilised as it may appear from the outside — there is some movement.

That cannot really be claimed about their biggest critic – the judiciary – which essentially remains aloof from reformation. Let us briefly examine this vital institution both empirically and sociologically. First, the crucial performance indication numbers – those that show delay and pendency – are not heartening to say the least.

More cases continue to come to courts than is desirable — more than the courts dispose or can ever dispose (the filters are weak; litigation is a convenient weapon to coerce and embroil one’s opponents, and to delay any official and administrative actions; there are also growing disputes in society).

More and more cases also remain stuck in courts despite some past attempts to clear backlog. Consequently, the gaps between case institution on the one hand and case pendency, as well as case disposals on the other, are growing.

While efficiency remains unequivocally a problem, quality of justice is also facing many challenges. Various publicly available surveys, scholarly writings and credible reports as well as any random conversation with citizens anywhere will highlight the huge problems there.

Institutional governance, on the other hand, is unbelievably hierarchical and centralised — all power essentially vests in the chief justices and there is no recourse if they simply dislike change. There is also no institutional pressure on them to change; the growing din of discontent in the streets notwithstanding.

The institutional culture, as a result, is one that promotes unquestioning servility, lack of initiative and embedded mediocrity amongst those occupying the lower rungs of the judiciary.

Administrative and support staff invariably lack the skill set required for tasks entrusted to them. Courts remain staunchly resistant to modern administrative frameworks for smoother operations and just, quick outcomes, such as a Case Flow Management System — something so fundamental and necessary that modern judiciaries have embraced it all across the globe.

As a consequence, there are no time limits for decisions of cases, no real judicial control over the pace of proceedings, increasingly recalcitrant lawyers, no willingness or viable mechanism for thwarting frivolous litigation and delaying tactics, and no overall judicial policy and mission.

Decision-making remains uninformed by data, performance evaluation operates on hearsay, record-keeping is abysmal and the language of justice and its beguiling processes are alien and alienating for the majority of citizens.

Let us now get back to the Panama Papers case — a case, above all, about merit and accountability. But surely it is important to first look at the judiciary’s own established safeguards to uphold the same. The judiciary often holds forth on the value of merit, transparency and accountability in other institutions. Yet it remains the only major institution where recruitment – or elevation as they prefer to call it – to the appellate courts is based on the preferences of a small group of insiders.

A constitutional endeavour to introduce a two-tier system for politically and publicly accountable judicial appointments was paralysed as the judiciary held on strongly to the rather indefensible principle of being answerable to itself alone, despite the risk of collusion and nepotism in any such scenario. The status quo, the judges insisted, ensured vital independence.

The judiciary also remains resolute that it would not agree to anything other than self-accountability. The Supreme Judicial Council and its pitifully small number of cases in the distant – and murky – past is all that there is to show for self-accountability.

Not to forget that if at all a judge finds themselves cornered into a position where they may be held accountable, they can conveniently resign and leave with all post-retirement benefits intact.

All this, of course, pertains to instances of corruption or delinquency — there is really no accountability whatsoever if an appellate judge simply does not work and spends an entire career writing nothing of note, or alternatively, writes judgments so poor that society would have gained if they had remained unwritten.

All the while we have to remember that provincial high courts are also responsible for administration of justice in their respective provinces — the aforementioned inaction or ineptitude for action, thus, adversely impacts hundreds of millions.

I should really now focus on the Panama Papers case but there is also the small matter of history. Legitimation of coups, authentication of dissolutions of elected governments under Article 58(2)(b) of the Constitution, opportunistic use of public interest litigation for holding forth over political contestations, chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s brand of judicialization of politics, use of populism for self-aggrandizement and creation of a political constituency — it is a checkered institutional story indeed.

All constitutional courts are at some level political. However, in our context a combination of political upheavals, ambitious military, constitutional design and some opportunistic individuals have generated a jurisprudence on adjudication of political questions that continues to surprise and at times shock jurists and commentators all over the world. As a result, our judiciary is perhaps more political and politicized than its counterparts elsewhere.

Let us also not forget that there have been other cases like the one on Panama Papers. In the past too, we, as a nation, have spent months following seemingly interminable courtroom dramas that have resulted in judgments that comprise hundreds of pages.

During those injudicious times also, politics was brought to a standstill and desirable ways of ensuring democratic transitions, promoting political governance and resolving disputes within a federation were sidelined and discarded in favor of televised spectacles.

This, even though the challenges faced by politics actually needed more politics to resolve things. Court-administered prescriptions, thus, were unsuitable remedies, if not fatally wrong ones. This, despite many past experiences of the judiciary itself suffering and creating suffering whenever burdened by matters beyond its capacity and jurisdiction.

Add to all this its inherent unaccountability if and when it got it wrong. As if there was not already enough for the judges to do by way of protecting rights, punishing crime and resolving disputes. As if all that was being adequately done.

So when the latest court drama fever engulfed the nation, I found myself unable to offer anything even when everyone and their electrician could. And so everyone rightly suspected that I knew little of such matters. For how could someone not follow something so monumental and not believe that this judgment – this judgment alone and on its very own – will end all systemic corruption in Pakistan, firmly establish a robust system of public accountability and chalk out a clear and comprehensive future roadmap for the nation.

I confess that I remain tongue-tied still. All I can say is that let the citizens do politics. And let the judges do justice — justice for ordinary people, in everyday matters, in mainstream as well as far-flung places and on a daily basis. For that is what really matters to the people. And yet that is what never gets prioritized.

Osama Siddique is an Associate Fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS), the inaugural Henry J Steiner Visiting Professor in Human Rights at Harvard Law School, and is the author of ‘Pakistan’s Experience with Formal Law: An Alien Justice’. His debut novel ‘Snuffing Out the Moon’ will be published by Penguin Random House in 2017.

This article originally appeared in The Herald on May 30, 2017.

Women’s empowerment drives development

Image: Flickr user ILO in Asia and the Pacific, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Lauren Woodbury

A growing body of evidence from around the world makes clear that progress towards gender parity contributes to overall economic growth. Therefore, policies designed to empower women are not merely a moral or social imperative, but are also worthwhile because they bring broader economic benefits. Women’s empowerment includes not only their participation in the labor force, but also women’s agency to “formulate strategic choices and to control resources and decisions that affect important life outcomes.”[1]

Globally, reducing the gender gap stimulates economic growth

The strong positive correlation between greater gender equality (especially in education and labor participation) and economic development holds across countries and time.[2] For instance, studies indicate that a reduction of the gap between males and females has been an important driver of European economic growth in the last decade, while greater female participation in the US labor force accounts for a quarter of its current GDP. From 1970 to 1990, Asian-Pacific economies grew by 1.96 percent for every 1 percent increase in women’s participation in non-agricultural employment. Women’s economic participation may have contributed 35 to 40 percent of the annual economic growth of newly industrialized countries over the last three decades.[3] Similarly, estimates show that economic output could increase by as much as 25 percent in developing countries if barriers against women working in major sectors are eliminated. Figure 1 below demonstrates the strong correlation between greater gender equality and GDP.[4]

Figure 1: Gender Gap and Per Capita GDP

WomenEmpowermentEconGrowth_WEFGenderGapReport2007Source: World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report 2007

How gender-equal access yields economic and social benefits

The overall benefit of improving women’s access to education and economic inputs is well documented.[5] Education not only makes women more productive workers, but it also has broader benefits. A year of primary education corresponds to a 10 to 20 percent increase in wages later in life, while a single year of secondary education increases wages by another 15 to 25 percent.[6] An additional year of a woman’s education also correlates with a 5 to 10 percent reduction in the risk of infant mortality for her children, and to a reduction in fertility rates and maternal mortality.

Moreover, there is a strong connection between improvements in women’s status and autonomy and investments in their children’s health and education (especially girls).[7] Mothers who had access to education are more than twice as likely to send their own children to school as mothers with no education. Women also tend to spend a greater portion of their income on family necessities including food, and improvements in women’s status corresponds to lower rates of child malnutrition.[8]

Studies also show that gender inequality in education directly harms economic growth by lowering the average level of human capital.[9] In the Asia-Pacific region it is estimated that between $16-30 billion is lost annually as a result of gender gaps in education.[10]

Equal access to economic inputs is also crucial. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that agricultural output could increase by 2.5 to 4 percent in developing countries if women farmers had the same access as men to agriculture inputs such as land and fertilizers.  Figure 2 below maps out the relationship between gender equality and poverty reduction.

Figure 2: Relationship Between Gender Equality and Poverty Reduction

Source: UNWTO. Global Report on Women in Tourism, 2010

Ultimately, the global evidence indicates that gender equality is fundamental to whether societies thrive or not,[11] and a failure to develop and utilize the capabilities of its female population can be understood as a key inhibitor of Pakistan’s growth. Empowering women should be understood as a “prerequisite for sustainable development.” Therefore, if Pakistan’s policy makers are serious about maximizing growth, they cannot afford to treat women’s empowerment as a tangential issue. Policies to empower women and remove the barriers they face in the labor market must be top priorities. Moreover, investments in women generally create larger economic returns than those in men, making programs that target women a wiser investment in resource-strapped countries like Pakistan.[12]

A future blog will specifically address the implications of women’s empowerment for growth in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Lauren Woodbury holds a Master of Public Policy and is currently the Program Manager at the Women’s Health Intervention and Development Initiative.

[1] Malhotra, A. and Schuler S.R. (2005) Women’s Empowerment as a Variable in International Development. in Narayan, D. (2005). Measuring Empowerment: Cross-disciplinary Perspectives. The World Bank. p. 73

[2] See for example Doepke, M. and Tertilt, M. (2014). Does Female Empowerment Promote Economic Development? Working Paper 19888. National Bureau of Economic Research. Cambridge, MA.;  Kabeer, N., 2005, “Is Microfinance a ‘Magic Bullet’ for Women’s Empowerment? Analysis of Findings from South Asia,” Economic and Political Weekly.; Lawson, S., 2008, “Women Hold Up Half the Sky”, Goldman Sachs Global Economics Paper No.164.; and Duflo, E., 2012, “Women Empowerment and Economic Development,” Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. 50, No. 4: pp. 1051-079.

[3] USAID. (July 2007). Pakistan’s Agenda for Action, Developing the Trade and Business Environment 2007 Assessment, Booz Allen and Hamilton.

[4] The author modeled per capita GDP and GGI score data for several additional years and found the correlation remained consistent.

[5] Cuberes, D. and Teignier-Baque, M. (2011). Gender Equality and Economic Growth: Background Paper for the World Development Report 2012.

[6] Sperling, G. and Herz, B. (2004). What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence and Policies from the Developing World. Council on Foreign Relations.

[7] Durrant, V. and Sathar, Z. (2000). Greater investments in children through women’s empowerment: a key to demographic change in Pakistan? Population Council Policy Research Division. New York.

[8] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). (2011). The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011: Women in Agriculture- Closing the Gender Gap for Development.

[9] Klasen,S. (2002). Low Schooling for Girls, Slower Growth for All? Cross-Country Evidence on the Effect of Gender Inequality in Education on Economic Development. The World Bank Economic Review. Vol. 16, No. 3

[10] WEF p. 39

[11] WEF. p. 29

[12] Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (2008). Gender and Sustainable Development: Maximizing the Economic, Social, and Environment Role of Women. p. 18