June issue 2009

By | News & Politics | Published 15 years ago

Balochistan is a province rich in all the natural resources a country requires to boost a lagging economy. It also happens to have an 1,100km-long coastline of immense strategic importance. Even though it bears great economic potential, unfortunately it is the most backward province in Pakistan.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province in terms of area (44% of the total land mass) but the smallest in terms of population (5% of the total population). Over two-thirds of its inhabitants reside in rural areas, whereas half of its urban population is concentrated in Quetta, Khuzdar, Turbat, Hub and Chaman. The rural area primarily consists of scattered settlements of sparse populations. The average population density of the province is 19 persons per square kilometre and varies greatly across districts.

According to the provincial government’s estimates, in 2003 the poverty level was marked at 41%, the level of rural poverty being much higher than urban poverty. If poverty is considered an index of human deprivation comprising of limited opportunities, social exclusion and vulnerability to exogenous shocks, a much larger portion of the population would fall under the poverty line. In addition to low income, poor households are characterised by low levels of education, lack of drinking water, and a dearth of health and welfare services.

Balochistan has the poorest social indicators in the country. The national literacy rate is 39.69% whereas for Balochistan, it stands at 29.81%. Less educated and less urbanised than the rest of the country, the province also has a far greater dependency ratio. While 43.3% of Pakistan’s population is below 15 years of age, the proportion for Balochistan is 49.5%. A younger population means a higher dependency ratio in terms of economic participation, and implies a larger need for educational and health facilities. The national labour force participation rate is at 30.4%; it stands at 25.69% for Balochistan. A higher gender disparity in the labour force participation suggests an even greater dependency ratio for the province. The 1998 census indicates only 23.3% of Balochistan’s population is urban, while the current national urban population is 33.4%.

Agriculture is the main source of income for the rural population. It employs 60.65% of the total labour force and accounts for more than 65% of Balochistan’s GDP. Crops provide 60% and 40% of the gross farm income and livestock, respectively. However, only a third of the land area is productive agricultural or grazing land. Tubewells are the largest source of irrigation in all the districts except Nasirabad, Jafarabad and Jhal Magsi (which are irrigated by canals). These tubewells have, however, resulted in a negative impact on the ground water table, which in many parts of the province (like Quetta, Mastung and Killa Saifullah) is decreasing by over 1.5 metres per year. Agricultural production in Balochistan is on the decline because of droughts in the recent past. It is estimated that almost 30% of livestock has been destroyed during this period. This decline has caused a significant reduction in income and food consumption.

Vital-StatisticsDevelopment of agriculture and the livestock sector is vital for the welfare of the people of province but, so far, no action has been taken by the government to improve this sector.

Minerals are a source of significant wealth for Balochistan but have not been fully exploited and contribute a neglibible 3% to the GDP. Balochistan has large reserves of natural gas and coal, but 40% of the province’s needs are still met through the use of firewood and dung cakes. An estimated 2 million tonnes of wood is burnt each year. Gas consumption in the province is low due to the limited supply of piped natural gas and liquid petroleum gas. Most of the 2 million tonnes of coal produced in the region is exported to other provinces. The industrial sector is still in the rudimentary stages and contributes around 10% of the GDP, employing 3.4% of the labour force.

The majority of Balochistan’s political parties blame the federal government for plundering the province’s resources and depriving its residents of basic necessities.

Electric power supply is concentrated in the urban centres and only 25% of the rural population — mostly those residing near urban centres — have access to electricity. In addition, the power supply is unreliable and often interrupted.

The quality of communication networks is also poor, offering scarce coverage. Balochistan has around 22,000km of metalled and shingle roads. Inadequate infrastructure — limited road access and poor condition of the road networks — has constrained Baloch from accessing markets, education and health facilities, and opportunities for livelihood.

Education is another neglected sector in Balochistan. According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2004, over three-fourths of women and two-thirds of the population above 10 years of age are illiterate. Fifty-four per cent of primary school-age children are not enrolled due to poverty and lack of proper schools and institutions. In the rural areas, women face the additional burden of gender discrimination. Gross enrolment for girls and boys is 35% and 56%, respectively.

The gross primary level enrolment rates (government schools excluding katchi classes) for rural areas show a significant disparity between male (71%) and female (37%), although the disparity is less pronounced in urban areas (male 72% and female 61%). At the middle school level, there is an increased disparity between male and female enrolments in urban areas (male 70%, female 50%), and this disparity is particularly significant in the rural areas (male 41%, female 11%). Balochistan’s rural middle school level enrolment rate is 11% for females— much lower than other provinces.

The province also remains deprived of basic health facilities. High infant mortality rates (IMR) prevail with 158 out of a 1,000 children dying before five years of age. The IMR in Balochistan is high with wide urban-rural and male-female variation. In rural areas, mortality rates for children under the age of five (U5MR) are at 164 per 1,000 live births, much higher than that of urban children (130 per 1,000 live births). About four out of every 10 children are underweight for their age. The National Nutrition Survey of 2001/02 projected a figure of 35.3% in children aging from six to nine months in Balochistan. According to the EPI coverage survey 2001, only 35% of the children in the age group of 12-23 months were fully immunised. There is a wide variation in child mortality between different regions, the lowest being in Kech region (IMR 44 and U5MR 58).

Maternal mortality also reigns at high levels — 880 per 100,000 births. The majority of women have anaemia, iodine deficiency or general malnutrition. A large number of mothers, including many young girls aged between 15 and 19, die each year due to pregnancy-related complications. Twenty per cent of pregnant women avail the services of antenatal care from trained birth attendants (42% urban and 16% rural). Skilled birth attendants provide assistance to 21% of women during delivery (44% urban and 16% rural).

Balochistan also suffers from a lack of purified drinking water. The water and sanitation indicators are far lower compared to the national figures, and this disparity increases in the rural areas. Nearly half of Balochistan’s population relies on unprotected wells, ponds, rivers, canals or streams for its drinking water needs. In urban areas, nearly 80% of the population has access to piped water inside (74%) or outside (5%) their homes, and another 10% have access to other improved sources of clean water. In rural areas, only 38%of the population has access to clean water within a close distance from their homes. Where groundwater is available, there is a drop in the underground water table due to overdrawing.

Along with the issues facing Balochistan mentioned above, the province also faces the problem of disposal of waste water and garbage. Except for Quetta (78%), Gwadar (21%) and Lasbela (17%), Balochistan faces the problem of piling waste, with 10 districts having disposal facilities of only four to 10%, while in the remaining 17 districts, less than 3% have access to waste water disposal facilities.

Most schools lack proper latrines; adequate excreta disposal facilities are unavailable to 71% of the rural population, and wastewater disposal is available to barely 1%. There is no sanitary landfill site or a wastewater treatment plant in any urban or rural settlement.

The lack of infrastructure and economic development in Balochistan is the root of the discontent among the Baloch. Successive governments have looted Balochistan’s mineral resources but have failed to provide the Baloch with the basic necessities required for survival. The PPP-led coalition government must act now to adress the major concerns of the province and win the hearts and minds of its inhabitants.