By Sher Jehan Mir,
Ex Chief Minster Gilgit Baltistan
Poverty prevailing in the rural society has a damaging effect on its social fabric. Apart from other serious economic implications, the poverty has social repercussions too. Small disputes arising out of trivial family issues, gradually turn into serious family dissensions, enmity, especially after the division and distribution of inherited properties of joint families in the rural communities. Day today bickerings turn into regular in house fightings and then into litigations leading to perpetual family feuds or enmities. The close blood relations of today turn into arch enemies of tomorrow and the litigation thus started growing into a regular feature of the rural community and this runs for generations and culminates in total destruction of the family not only economically but socially too. This damaging trend has now assumed the status of a virus “God forbid! it may not be Covid-19”. It is high time that sanity comes to the opinion leaders or elders of the rural society before it is too late. This virus has now eaten into the fabric of the society. Healthy curative measures are needed to root out this pandemic. Many countries in the world took the poverty issues of their rural community as a challenge and skilfully turn it into an opportunity for uplifting the population living below the poverty line, through their innovative ideas and constant endeavours.
Constant efforts do produce encouraging results. I remember, some families in our close vicinity and further afield were quite famous in street fighting , brick batting and mud slinging on each other. The young guys of these families were always actively in the arena for wrestling with their neighbours. Most of their valuable time was spent in the police stations and the leisure time in hatching new plans against the neighbours. They were discharging this duty with great devotion and religious fervour. It was but a blessing in disguise that somebody induced them to change their thinking, provided them with some job opportunities and got them engaged in some businesses in our own village. They are now happily engaged in a lucrative business including real estate. The warring neighbours have now become not only close relatives again but intimate friends too. Here it reminds me the old Chinese saying, “Do not teach how to eat the fish but how to catch the fish”, which went 100% correct too in the stated case.
When we observe the history of the world leaders of the recent past like, Mao, Linen, Karl Marx, Khalil Jibran, micro-finance movement of DR. Younus and even French revolution we can realize that all these ideas culminate in redeeming the economic goals of the society.
More than 4% of GB’s population is living below the poverty line. In order to nip the evil in the bud, there is a need of paradigm shift in the approach of living patterns of the people in the village and they are re quired to be induced towards agro-based and other income generating activities. The reasons of abject poverty in the rural society could be summarized as under:-
The literacy rate in the rural area is quite low because they do not have access to quality education either because of financial constraints or lack lustre attitude of the government to provide affordable or free education to the poor masses in the rural areas. Obviously, without having acquired quality education the youth in the rural areas is unable to compete for higher and lucrative job opportunities and consequently they are legging behind in overall developmental activity.
The rural communities do not have better health facilities as compared to urban area and thus their children are always vulnerable to a number of diseases besides male nutrition problem due to food shortages. They are unable to afford proper medical treatment to their ailing children mainly because of financial constraints. A large segment of the rural society does not have access even to safe drinking water which ultimately results in water borne disease.
Small Land Holding/ Shortage of food
The land holding of the people in the rural area is too small i.e much below the subsistence holding. This land could hardly suffice the food requirements of an average family. So, the rural communities always suffer with food shortages and they are gradually pushed below the poverty line.
Adequate housing is basic human requirement to protect themselves both from hot and cold weather conditions besides rain fall etc. The shelter homes in the rural areas of GB are mostly made of mud and rubble and always prone to suffer by natural calamities like heavy rains, tremors and floods. Unless the rural society is provided with proper shelter, there would always be an impending danger of their being exposed to natural calamities.
Lack of credit
Soft loans or interest free credit is considered to be the life blood in improving the economic conditions of poorest of the poor. A number of organizations like AKRSP, IFAD, Micro Finance Banks, GBRSP and Akhuwat are actively working in the area but no considerable head way has been made in this direction so far. At the moment, IFAD, Akhuwat and GBRSP seem to be quite active and making tremendous efforts in providing soft or interest free loans to the poorest segments of the rural community. They are also taking agro based projects on the basis of public-private partnership. These interventions are likely to produce encouraging results in the years ahead. However, the pitiable conditions prevailing in the rural areas demand a holistic approach to address their economic issues in a coherent manner. The Micro Finance Banks working in the region could have played a major role too in this direction but disappointingly their role in disbursement of soft loans has been more of a dormant partner so far. The outreach of the existing MF banks in GB is hardly 5% of the rural population. The area like Darel, Tangir and other remote places of Diamer district have no access to micro financing.
Lack of Awareness
The people in the villages are generally un-aware as to how their earning capacity could be enhanced through optimum use of moveable and immoveable resources at their disposal. There is a need to launch a mass social awareness campaign by NGOs and other developmental organizations in GB. Because these small farmers are still treading on the old beaten track , not willing to accept the change and use their land for diverse crops, adopting value addition methods / techniques and growing demand oriented vegetable etc. These awareness campaigns can bring about a marked improvement in the overall income generating capacity of the people with small means.
Since there is no industry functioning in the rural area, the ratio of un-employment has gone up and resultantly the poor masses have been pushed down the poverty line. Although the rural area is producing delicious fruits abundantly but there are hardly some fruit canning and processing plants. There is need to establish fruit canning and processing plants both by public and private sector.
In the wake of the on going situation, it is quite imperative that some remedial steps are taken both by the government and other developmental organizations, NGOs and MFIs so that the rural communities could be transformed into a prosperous and self-sustained entity of GB. The following measures can be taken conveniently for the economic and social betterment of the rural society:-
Government should allocate extra funds for establishing more schools and colleges in the rural areas for imparting quality education besides conducting Skill Development programmes.
Number of hospitals and primary health care units in the rural areas be increased to provide at least basic health care facilities to the masses.
The existing programme of “IFAD” be extended for another 10 years, so that the agro-based programmes initiated by IFAD in the region may not die in harness. There is a dire need to extend it to the entire region ( even to the remote corners) in a gradual but coherent manner. AKRSP which has almost squeezed its developmental activities, should also contribute actively for the larger benefits of the poor people in rural areas.
On the other hand, government should increase the amount of GBRSP’s endorsement funds, besides other allocations for carrying small projects on community basis. GBRSP has recently started its micro financing program also. This program is quite beneficial for the poorest of the poor and is likely to produce better results. This programme is basically based on Garameen Model of Bangladesh initiated by DR. Muhammad Younis for poorest of the poor people in Bangladesh.
Awareness sessions/ training workshops and skill development programmes be initiated at large scale both by GBRSP, IFAD and AKRSP, so that maximum coverage is attained to achieve tangible results in the shortest possible time.
GBRSP may coordinate its activities, developmental plan with “EHSAS” and other allied organizations working in the field.
GBRSP/IFAD should also sponsor awareness programmes in KIU campuses as well as in the colleges.
There is a need to establish and promote mining industry too. Most of the area of GB is comprised of high plateaus and mountains. These mountains are divided into three mountain ranges, like Himalayas, Karakuram and Hindukush. These mountain ranges contain heavy deposits of valuable minerals including gold, ruby, marble, uranium, molybdenum and other precious metals. A detailed geological survey of the area is yet to be carried out. The federal government has reportedly approve a project of RS 5 billion for this purpose. Once this survey is carried out. Moreover, Government should encourage private parties both local and down country to set up their mining projects in the region on the basis of public private partnership. This would automatically generate a lot of employment in the rural areas besides creating a number of other businesses.
Similarly, there are a number of scenic beauty places, glaciers, peaks, high mountains, lakes for tourist attraction. Once the crisis of pandemic Covid-19 is over, there are bright prospects of promoting tourist industry on priority basis, so that it could generate employment to the people at their door steps besides earning foreign exchange for the country.
I am confident, if the steps mentioned above are taken in a planned manner, these would certainly produce tangible results and the rural society can be turned into a prosperous and self-sustained entity like in Thailand, Bangladesh and Japan.
The writer is a ex-Chief Minster Gilgit Baltistan.