By: Mansoor Ahmad

LAHORE: The economic growth of a country is closely linked not only to the macroeconomic stability but also to the quality of its human capital and in this regard Pakistan is unfortunately at the rock bottom in almost all crucial socio-economic indicators among the four major countries of the subcontinent.

On the positive side, we have the lowest policy rates and the most stable rupee in the region. However, as far as its human capital development is concerned, it is pathetic in terms of literacy rate, infant mortality rate, life expectancy, maternal mortality rate, etc.

The literacy rate is 61.2 percent in Bangladesh, 71.2 percent in India, 59.9 percent in Pakistan and 92.3 percent in Sri Lanka. There are 32.9 deaths of children per 1000 live births in Bangladesh, 40.5 /1000 in India, 53.9/1000 in Pakistan and only 8.6/1000 in Sri Lanka. The life expectancy in Bangladesh at birth is 73.2 years. It is 68.3 years in India, 67.7 years in Pakistan and 76.8 years in Sri Lanka. Maternal mortality rate in Bangladesh is 240/100000 pregnancies, 200 per 100000 in India, 260/100000 in Pakistan, and only 35 in Sri Lanka. Bangladeshís annual exports stand at $33.32 billion, Indiaís $271.6 billion, Pakistanís $20.96, and Sri Lankaís exports amount to $10.12 billion. If we look at the GDP growth rates, they also follow the same pattern as seen in social indicators. The GDP growth in 2016 was 6.90 percent in Bangladesh, 7.6 percent in India, 5.0 percent in Sri Lanka, and 4.70 percent in Pakistan. The lower literacy rate means poor knowledge economy that is gaining importance in economic activities.

We have been trying sincerely to close the infrastructure deficit facing the country but our planners have paid no attention to improve the health and education of our population. With a population of 200 billion, out of which at least 100 million are of school or college going age. We provide top quality education to around 5-7 percent of these children. Millions have never seen a school, while the remaining, who attend substandard government schools, gain little or no knowledge at all.

The situation is even worse in health sector, where less than 5 percent of the 200 million people have access to quality health services.

The government-funded vaccines reach only less than 15 percent of the total population. This leaves 85 percent of the children at risk to various preventable but crippling and deadly diseases. The quality of drinking water around the country is very poor making most f the population vulnerable to water borne diseases. Bad health impacts the efficiency of the workforce.

Pakistan lacks an efficient city that operates independent of the general economy of the country. In Bangladesh, Dhaka is the city of stitching experts, rolling out millions of garments a day for the developed world.

The city faces no power or energy shortages or bureaucratic red tape in exports. In India, cities like Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad are models
of efficiency with all required infrastructure and human resource. In Pakistan, Karachi is an ideal city that can act as a catalyst of growth, but it lacks infrastructure, required skilled workforce, etc.

It is also short of ethnic harmony as well as law and order, while Lahore, on the other hand, has a superb infrastructure, having well-looked-after industrial estates.

The catch is that it faces energy shortages and high cost of power. Producing low value-added products in Lahore is expensive as imported inputs come from Karachi, bearing high transport cost and then finished products have to be sent back to Karachi for local consumption or exports, again at a high transportation cost. Itís not competitiveness-friendly. While planning infrastructure projects, the planners have failed to establish common water treatment plants in industrial estates. It has resulted in cancelation on export orders of non-compliant small exporters by the environmentally and ethically conscious buyers in the developed countries.

Public sector support currently targets activities, instead of sectors. Activities that are subsidised lack clear potential of providing spillovers and demonstration effects. The mindset of the population would remain passive if they remained deprived of real social benefits that are not dole-outs but better education, training, healthcare, and transportation facilities.