Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ambitious poverty alleviation programme has received a huge boost. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have agreed to provide $200 million to support the government’s plan. This hefty amount would be spent in 2020 on over a hundred poverty alleviation projects.
The Gates Foundation is responsible for several social welfare activities in Pakistan. It is the main donor of the polio eradication program, along with immunization, maternal and child health, and financial inclusion programmes. The philanthropist has called for greater investment in the fight against global poverty expressing concerns that efforts towards poverty relief could be stalling.
Since he came to office in 2018, Imran Khan has set out a detailed plan to alleviate poverty and improve health and education for the most vulnerable people and build a welfare state. He has said that poverty alleviation is the main priority of his government.
The Ehsas programme, overseen by the competent public health specialist Dr Sania Nishtar, launched earlier this year, is considered the biggest anti-poverty programme in Pakistan. The initiative also aims to radically improve Pakistan’s progress toward achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The fundamental right of people to receive food, shelter, clothing, education, and healthcare will finally be exercised. A new ministry for social welfare and poverty alleviation has been set up. The government plans to spend over Rs120 billion on underprivileged segments of society.
The programme shows that the prime minister recognises poverty alleviation as major problem. Pakistan cannot achieve double-digit economic growth rates like China to lift masses from poverty. The other option is building a state which helps people and spending on the social sector. Ehsas is seen as the right step in that direction.
The only problem is the path forward. This requires concrete efforts rather than constitutional amendments and approaching courts for fundamental human rights. There is also a lack of resources and absence of any commitment to prioritise social services.
In Pakistan, a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line, and over eighty percent of the poor live in rural areas which are at a disadvantage in all aspects of service delivery. Poverty alleviation is also a standard promise by successive governments, and amidst a struggling economy the government is unlikely to have the funds to deliver.
Imran Khan’s efforts seem sincere and the government is finally speaking about poverty alleviation and social services as important priorities of the state. It is now necessary to embark on an effective course of action. It is hoped that under the leadership of Imran Khan and the funds of Bill Gates, Pakistan will be able to eradicate poverty and become a prosperous nation.