A group of university students in Lahore, Pakistan, work together on a circuit board in their electrical engineering class. People who have had a decent education, healthcare, and opportunities, can provide the same to their children, setting off a ‘virtuous domino effect’ of progress. Photo: UNDP Pakistan/Huma Akram

 

UNDP’s recent Human Development Report reinforces the fact that inequalities have huge and far-flung repercussions for individuals and nations.

It revealed that only three percent of the children born in 2000 in low human development countries will ever receive higher education, compared to 55 percent from richer countries. Think of the state of those poorer countries in 20 years, where the vast majority of young people will be unskilled, untrained, and unlikely to live up to their potential. This will hinder the country’s prospects, influencing everything from its politics to its development. This is the domino effect of inequality,  where the whisper of inequality in one area echoes loudly throughout the country, the region, and then the world.

According to the report, Pakistan performs below the average for its region, being surpassed by countries such as India and Bangladesh in human development, gender development, and in human development adjusted for inequality. This speaks to huge inequalities in gender, education, health, and more. In fact, the richest 20 percent of the country has a level of human development similar to a country such as Egypt, while the poorest 20 percent is equivalent to Chad. Around twice as many of the poorest children under five die, and only half as many go to primary school compared to the richest.

Far-reaching implications

All of this has implications for opportunities, child-rearing knowledge, spread of disease, domestic violence, and even the amount of time parents can invest in their children. This can have huge effects on the development of children, who then grow up to be adults in the same situation as their parents. The domino effect continues, leading to an endless and brutal cycle. Some groups are especially vulnerable to the inequality trap, such as women, people with disabilities, the transgender community, and religious or ethnic minorities who can add systemic injustice and structural violence to an already long list of deprivations they must face every day.

So, what does this inequality mean for society at large? Who do people turn to when they are unable to meet basic needs through their leaders and their government? 

In Pakistan, like numerous other countries, people often turn to corruption, drug use, violence, and crime.

Inequality, unemployment and destitution also lead to resentments that often devolve into violence, unrest, and an ‘us versus them’ mentality. In many ways, intra-provincial and ethnic conflicts in Pakistan are the result of the greater development in richer areas. 

Terrorism, too, is often a reflection of inequality. Disenfranchised youth, with little hope for a better future, can be lured into extremist ideologies. If things do not look hopeful in this world, then perhaps that can be changed in the next.

'Rural-push'

Inequality creates ‘rural-push’ factors, where people from rural areas move to the more developed cities in order to secure better opportunities. This puts pressure on Pakistan’s fast-growing cities, increasing the burden on their already stressed infrastructure. Inequality also forces labourers from rural communities to immigrate to other countries, mostly the Gulf States, for better opportunities. The remittances they send back create small pockets of wealth in Pakistan, further bolstering inequality. The ‘brain drain’ resulting from Pakistan’s educated elite going abroad for better opportunities—to become doctors, or to work in the software industry—hugely lowers the country’s productivity.

The consequences of this inequality spill over into the rest of the world, affecting global peace and prosperity, and often widening divides formed along socio-cultural fault lines.

The effects of inequality in one country can cause an equal and opposite reaction in another. Rather than attempting to stop the domino effect, then, we must channel it for good. People who have had a decent education, healthcare, and opportunities, can provide the same to their children, setting off a ‘virtuous domino effect’ of progress.

Pakistan’s upcoming National Human Development Report on Inequality aims to lay the groundwork for exactly that, recommending policy changes that will improve the contexts of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable. We hope that a move towards inclusivity and equality can be the new catalyst for positive change throughout the world.

 

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