South Asia – where weapons are more important than the poor

05 March, 2014, Karachi, Pakistan

South Asia is home to over 40 percent of the world’s poor. Of the eight countries in the region, four fall in the category of the UN-defined least developed countries. Three of them are landlocked. The share of distribution of GDP among the South Asian countries indicates that there is a lack of symmetrical distribution.

These observations were made at the launching ceremony of a South Asia report “Crises, Vulnerability and Poverty in South Asia – People’s Struggles for Justice and Dignity” on Wednesday.

The ceremony was organised by the South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE) and the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) at the Karachi Press Club.

They key speakers were Justice (retd) Majida Razvi, the chairperson of Human Rights Commission, Sindh; Dr. Riaz Shaikh of the Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (Szabist) and Zulfiqar Shah, the joint director of Piler.

Speaking on the occasion, Justice (retd) Majida Razvi appreciated the contents of the report and said it was an important reference material. She said women were the most vulnerable sections of the society affected by poverty.

Dr Riaz Shaikh said it was a pity that the people of South Asia were suffering from starvation despite the fact that the area was once famous for provision of food to the entire world. “All this is happening because of neo-liberal policies of globalisation,” he said.

“The governments of South Asian countries are not spending much on development.” 
Zulfiqar Shah said women and children in South Asia were the ones most affected by the poverty. He regretted that despite the large population of poor in South Asia, the expenditure on development in the region was very low. “These countries spent the bulk of their budgets on purchasing weapons. These countries are poor, but their military spending is much more than that of developed countries.”

SAAPE is a regional platform of civil society organisations, social movements and people’s networks fighting together against the structural causes of poverty and social injustices in the region and beyond. SAAPE has been compiling the South Asia poverty report since 2003, focusing on the socio-economic development of the region and people’s vulnerability and states’ responses. The current report is the fourth in the series of SAAPE’s publication on poverty analysis and alternative development paradigms.

SAAPE launched its 2013 report with a broader analysis of the dominant development paradigm in the South Asian region, highlighting its market-centric nature and growth-led (not equity) development, guided by the harmful principles enshrined in the texts of the Washington Consensus and World Trade Organisation, the International Financial Institution and other instruments created for the suppression of the toiling masses in South Asia.

The Human Development Report of 2013 confirms that in most South Asian countries, the score in terms of the HDI is very low. Of the 187 countries, Norway ranks first while Niger ranks last. Although Sri Lanka and the Maldives are comparatively better, South Asia as a region is still in an “inhumane” state in terms of access to income, health and education which is essential for a decent living as per the international standards.

The majority of the South Asian population is suffering from destitution, deprivation and misery. The latest multi-dimensional poverty estimates show that poverty continues to be very high in most South Asian countries. In terms of percentage, it is estimated at 57.8, 53.7, 49.4 and 44.2 percent for Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal, respectively.

The Maldives and Sri Lanka have low poverty levels at 5.2 and 5.3 percent, respectively. The same measurements also depict the grave intensity of deprivation in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal, hovering around 50 percent. Likewise, the poverty intensity is high in Bhutan at 43.9 percent.

Despite the oppressive forms of political and economic systems existing in South Asian states, the diverse forms of rights movements in the form of resistance movements are increasing. People’s struggle against the forces of suppression, exploitation and marginalisation is becoming more and more purposeful, igniting the hope that these anti-people forces will soon be crippled.

The report features the voices of people against the injustice and indignity caused by the crisis-led vulnerability and poverty across the sub-continent and suggests sustainable alternatives. Thus, the report provides a critical review of the broad economic policy regime adopted by the South Asian states as well as the actors and factors influencing or dictating them.