On Equity and Happiness: UNDP at the Lahore Literary Festival

February 26, 2019

23rd February, 2019: UNDP organized a panel at the 2019 Lahore Literary Festival in the Al Hamra Cultural Complex. Over the years, the LLF has become an important avenue for socio-cultural discourse and critique in the country. With this in mind, UNDP’s panel - titled ‘On Equity and Happiness’ - aimed to deconstruct the linkages between the distribution of resources in Pakistan, and the contentment of its people.

The panel was led by UN Resident Coordinator Neil Buhne, with panelists Amjad Saqib, founder of the world's largest interest free microfinance program Akhuwat; Taimur Khan Jhagra, Finance Minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; Erum Sattar, water and law policy expert; and Dr. Hafiz Pasha, former Commerce, Planning, and Finance Minister of Pakistan and former UN Assistant Secretary General.

Neil Buhne launched the discussion by referencing the global Human Development Reports established by beloved Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq in 1990. These reports have had a profound impact on the way we think of human development in global terms. He then invited the panelists to speak to the theme of equity and happiness in Pakistan.

To start off, Amjad Saqib outlined the need for a multidimensional approach to poverty that explores the context of social cohesion, rather than just income. Taimur Jhagra encouraged the LLF audience to not just think about inequality and development in abstract terms, but to act on the information made available to them.

Dr. Pasha, as the lead author of UNDP’s latest National Human Development Report (NHDR) on inequality, talked about the gross disparities present in the country. As an example, the agricultural and population census shows that 1 percent of farmers in Pakistan own 22 percent of all farm area. The bottom 50 percent, on the other hand, own only 12 percent. Elaborating more on this agricultural theme, Erum Sattar spoke specifically about the distribution of water at the farm level in Pakistan - a practice called warabandi - and how this further perpetuates inequality in a system already characterized by power imbalances.

According to Dr. Pasha, although inequality in Pakistan has fallen since 2010/11, there exist huge pockets of regional, gendered, and income inequality that must still be addressed. 72 percent of all people in FATA, as an example, live in poverty. Of the difference between the minimum wage and the living wage, Dr. Pasha said: “The living wage in Pakistan is around 21000 Rupees, and unfortunately our minimum wage - (which) varies a bit from area to area and province to province - is hardly 15000 Rupees. However, the more worrying statistic is that only 32% of the workers of Pakistan - even through the organized sector - get the minimum wage. That is the extent of exploitation in the country”.

These inequalities are crucial to address, since they serve as an obstacle to both the development and happiness of the populace. To this end, Dr. Pasha hopes UNDP’s NHDR on inequality will pave the way for a more comprehensive understanding of this issue in Pakistan.