in the dark
let hungry go angry!
method to madness
Selective trade liberalisation
High levels of protection continue to be applied in the markets of developed countries against those products that are of special interest to developing countries
By Hussain H Zaidi
Of the total 151 members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), an overwhelmingly majority are developing countries. To help these countries secure a share in global trade commensurate with their development needs is one of the primary objectives of the WTO. The principal way through which the multilateral trading system can contribute to development is to create enhanced export promotion opportunities for developing countries. However, to date, there has been at best only modest progress in enhancing market access for developing countries. Though trade among developing countries -- also called "south-south trade" -- is on the rise, developed countries continue to be the major markets for exports originating in developing countries.
Therefore, increased market access in developed countries is vital to the promotion of exports by developing countries. However, as the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) puts it, high levels of protection continue to be applied in the markets of developed countries against those products that are of special interest to developing countries, such as labour-intensive manufactures (like textile and clothing) and primary commodities (Trade and Development Report 2006). A look at the tariff structure between 1994 -- when the Uruguay Round (leading to the birth of the WTO) was completed -- and 2005 confirms this, as shown in the table.
In 1994, weighted average tariffs (calculated by assigning weights to tariff lines as per their share in total imports) applied by developed countries to exports originating in developed and developing countries were 3.32 per cent and 4.47 per cent, respectively. In 2005, the weighted average tariffs were reduced to 1.29 per cent and 2.12 per cent for developed and developing countries, respectively. This shows that while developed countries on average reduced tariffs on exports from other developed countries by 61.1 per cent, the reduction in case of exports from developing countries was only 52.6 per cent.
On agricultural products, in 1994, weighted average tariffs applied by developed countries to exports originating in developed and developing countries were 4.88 per cent and 2.83 per cent, respectively. In 2005, the average tariffs on agricultural products were reduced to 2.98 per cent and 2.48 per cent for developed and developing countries, respectively. This shows that while developed countries on average reduced tariffs on agriculture exports from other developed countries by 39 per cent, the reduction in case of exports from developing countries was merely 12.4 per cent.
On manufactures, in 1994, weighted average tariffs applied by developed countries to exports originating in developed and developing countries were 3.25 per cent and 5.18 per cent, respectively. In 2005, the average tariffs on manufactures were reduced to 1.14 per cent and 2.39 per cent for developed and developing countries, respectively. This shows that while developed countries on average reduced tariffs on export of manufactures from other developed countries by 65 per cent, the reduction in case of exports from developing countries was just 54 per cent.
On labour-intensive manufactures, in 1994, weighted average tariffs applied by developed countries to exports originating in developed and developing countries were 8.90 per cent and 11.19 per cent, respectively. In 2005, the weighted average tariffs on labour-intensive manufactures were reduced to 4.33 per cent and 9.32 per cent for developed and developing countries, respectively. This shows that while developed countries on average reduced tariffs on labour-intensive manufactures from other developed countries by 51.3 per cent, the reduction in case of exports from developing countries was as low as 16.7 per cent.
On non-labour-intensive manufactures, in 1994, weighted average tariffs applied by developed countries to exports originating in developed and developing countries were 2.98 per cent and 2.83 per cent, respectively. In 2005, the weighted average tariffs on non-labour-intensive manufactures were reduced to 1.03 per cent and 0.88 per cent for developed and developing countries, respectively. This shows that while developed countries on average reduced tariffs on non-labour-intensive manufactures from other developed countries by 65.4 per cent, the reduction in case of exports from developing countries was slightly higher at 68.9 per cent.
Thus developed countries continue to apply higher average tariffs to exports originating in developing countries, particularly in the case of labour-intensive manufactures, than on those originating in other developed countries. This, according to UNCTAD, indicates bias against export opportunities for developing countries. Also, important is the difference in tariffs applied on labour-intensive manufactures and non-labour intensive manufactures exported by developing countries. For instance, while average weighted tariff on non-labour-intensive manufactures is only 0.88 per cent, that on labour-intensive manufactures is as high as 9.32 per cent
Products of export interest for developing countries are often subject to specific tariffs, tariff peaks and tariff escalation in the markets of developed countries. Specific tariffs, which are based on quantity or volume of imports rather than their value and are generally used in the case of agricultural products, target low-priced exports with the level of protection increasing as world market prices fall. According to UNCTAD, "Tariff peaks are applied mainly to agricultural products and labour-intensive manufactures."
Higher tariffs are not the only impediment to market access for exports originating in developing country. Domestic support and export subsidies, particularly in the field of agriculture, also tend to make exports originating in developing country less competitive. Developed countries annually dole out billions of dollars worth farm subsidies, making their farmers prosperous at the expense of those in developing countries. The reluctance of developed countries to liberalise trade in agriculture brought the Doha Round of negotiations to a stalemate.
Even where traditional trade barriers are low, non-traditional barriers (NTBs) make market access difficult. The NTBs include anti-dumping and countervailing duties; and health, environment and safety standards and technical regulations. Of these, standards and technical regulations are of most serious concern for developing countries. The health, environment and safety standards and technical regulations are covered by two WTO agreements: the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), and the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Measures (SPS). The basic purpose of these standards and regulations is to protect human, animal and plant life, as well as preserve the environment. A country"s right to apply the standards and regulations to achieve these legitimate policy objectives is indisputable. The problem arises, however, when these standards are used to distort trade.
According to UNCTAD, the application of these standards and regulations has almost doubled between 1994 and 2005. While this reflects the growing concern for consumer health and environment, this also indicates that one form of protectionism is being replaced with another. The limited export opportunities for the vast majority of developing countries are indicated by their share in global exports. Though the share of developing countries in global merchandise exports has gone up from 24.21 per cent in 1990 to 36 per cent in 2006, this increase can be attributed to a handful of bigger or relatively advanced economies.
In 1990, the share of 10 leading developing economies -- China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Mexico, Malaysia, India, Thailand and Brazil -- in global exports was 13.44 per cent. In 2006, the share of these economies in global exports had increased to almost 22 per cent. Minus these 10 economies, the share of developing countries in global exports in 1990 was 11 per cent. In 2006, the share of developing countries in global exports had only marginally increased to 14 per cent. The share of the 10 leading economies in total exports of developing countries in 1990 was 55 per cent, which had increased to 61 per cent in 2006.
Like other developing countries, Pakistan too is a victim of selective trade liberalisation by developed countries. About 65 per cent of the country"s total exports consist of textile and clothing (T&C) products, which face higher tariffs in the markets of developed countries than other industrial products. In the case of the European Union -- a 27-member bloc -- while the average tariffs applied to industrial products are four per cent, for T&C products average applied tariffs are eight per cent. In the case of the United States, while the average tariffs applied to industrial products are 3.3 per cent, for T&C products average applied tariffs are 8.7 per cent.
In the case of Canada, while the average tariffs applied to industrial products are four per cent, for T&C products average applied tariffs are 11.3 per cent. In the case of Japan, while the average tariffs applied to industrial products are 2.5 per cent, for T&C products average applied tariffs are 6.7 per cent. In the case of Switzerland, while the average tariffs applied to industrial products are 2.1 per cent, for T&C products average applied tariffs are 6.6 per cent. In the case of Norway, while the average tariffs applied to industrial products are 0.6 per cent, for T&C products average applied tariffs are seven per cent.
Two courses are open to developing countries as they seek increased market access in developed countries: bilateralism and multilateralism. The former entails entering into free trade agreements (FTAs) with developed countries. There are two problems with this arrangement. One, developed countries are more interested in negotiating FTAs with bigger (like India) or relatively advanced developing countries (like Singapore and South Korea), and generally look down upon smaller or backward countries as potential FTA partners -- unless there are strong political reasons for striking trade deals. Two, even if developed countries agree to enter into FTAs with developing countries, the latter are forced to make very commitments that expose their weak economies. This leaves multilateralism, despite its slow progress, as the only choice for the vast majority of developing countries.
Some questions about a brutally unnecessary war
By Kaleem Omar
Americans seem to specialise in waging unnecessary wars, no matter how brutal they may turn out to be. Take the Vietnam War, for instance, which America went into in the early 1960s based on what was then known in Washington circles as the Domino Theory. This theory argued that if any of the Southeast Asian nations fell to communism, the rest, too, would fall one by one -- like a bunch of dominos. But no such thing happened and the Domino Theory was consigned to the dustbin of history.
In the process, however, the Americans ended up killing 3.5 million Vietnamese, including more than two million civilians. They dropped a greater tonnage of bombs on Vietnam than the total tonnage of bombs dropped by the Allied and Axis powers on each other during the whole of World War II. About 55,000 American troops also died in Vietnam. The whole thing turned out to be an exercise in tragic futility, which achieved nothing.
Saigon, the capital of what was then South Vietnam, fell to the communist Viet Cong guerrillas in May 1975 and was promptly renamed Ho Chi Minh City, after the legendary leader of North Vietnam, affectionately known to his people as Uncle Ho. Today, the unified country of North and South Vietnam, which is still a communist country, is being billed as the next up and coming Asian tiger economy.
The irony is that scores of American companies are now scrambling to set up offices and factories in Vietnam to cash in on its economic boom, lending credence to the late Chinese leader Deng Tsiao Ping"s famous remark: "What difference does it make if the cat is black or white so long as it catches mice."
Nearly three decades after the ignominious end of America"s Vietnam misadventure, it launched another totally unnecessary war, this time against Iraq. The excuse cooked up by President George W Bush"s administration to invade and occupy Iraq in March 2003 was that it possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which, in Bush"s words, "posed an imminent threat to the national security of the United States."
In fact, of course, as the whole world now knows, Iraq possessed no WMD and posed no threat whatsoever to the mighty United States. This fact has now dawned upon even the majority of the American people, though we, in this part of the world, as well as people in most other countries, had known this fact all along.
I do not say this in hindsight. I say it as somebody who wrote more than a dozen articles in The News months before the war stating that Iraq possessed no WMD. When no WMD were found in Iraq during an 18-month nationwide search by a team of 1,400 American weapons inspectors and intelligence agents sent to the country by Bush after the fall of Baghdad, wags promptly dubbed the WMD the "weapons of mass disappearance".
It is now more than five years since the Americans occupied Iraq (after a massive bombing campaign) and there is still no sign of when, if ever, the 160,000 US troops in the country will leave. They have built 12 huge military bases in Iraq, which, independent observers have reported, look very much like permanent bases -- reinforcing the widely held view that the Americans have no intention of leaving and intend to retain a permanent military presence in Iraq in order to ensure US control over the country"s vast oil reserves (which, at a proven reserves figure of 120 billion barrels, are the second largest in the world after Saudi Arabia"s).
At the current international price of about $ 120 per barrel of crude oil, Iraq"s oil reserves are now worth $ 12 trillion (that"s $ 12,000 billion) -- a very useful piece of change even by America"s wildly profligate standards. That"s what the Iraq war is really about -- not the Bush administration"s propaganda about invading Iraq in order to bring the "benefits" of freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people.
It is said that the Bush administration"s original code name for the invasion of Iraq was "Operational Iraqi Liberation", but when White House officials realised that the acronym for that code name spelt "OIL", they hurriedly changed the name to "Operation Iraqi Freedom". How any country can be free when it is occupied by 160,000 foreign troops is another matter.
The real point, however, is that Iraq"s oil belongs to the Iraqi people, not to American oil companies. Not that this fact seems to bother the American oil companies very much. The price of oil has more than quadrupled since the Iraq war began. The main beneficiaries of this astronomic rise in prices are the big US oil companies, which have been earning record profits in the last five years. In 2007, the US oil company Exxon Mobil alone earned a profit of $ 112 billion -- the highest level of profit every earned by any company in any one year in history.
"Big Oil", as the five largest US oil companies are collectively known, is President Bush".s and US Vice-President Dick Cheney"s real constituency. Both Bush and Cheney have had longstanding close links with the US oil industry. For the sake of those links, they seem to be prepared to kill any number of Iraqis.
A survey carried out by the respected British medical journal The Lancet in July 2006 and published in its October 2006 issue suggested that about 655,000 Iraqis had died by that time in the US attack and occupation of Iraq. A survey published by the UK-based polling agency Opinion Research Business in September 2007 suggested that up to 1.2 million Iraqis might have died because of the conflict. Most of those who died were innocent civilians.
How many more Iraqis must die before Bush"s and Cheney"s seemingly insatiable bloodlust is slaked?
Fata"s new voice
I believe that Islam is the most secular religion
By Raza Khan
Syed Akhunzada Chitan was elected as a member of the National Assembly from the troubled Bajaur Agency in the recent general elections. He is politically affiliated with the Pakistan People"s Party (PPP). Starting as an energetic student leader, he also remained president of the NWFP People"s Federation. He did his Bachelors in Fine Arts from University of Peshawar. Akhunzada Chitan has always waged struggle for the rights of his fellow tribal people and has also spent time behind the bars in this connection. After a long political struggle, he has finally managed to make it to the National Assembly. As Chitan is the only PPP-affiliated MNA from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), he is all set to become a minister in the near future. The News on Sunday interviewed him recently, with a special focus on issues related to the tribal areas. Excerpts follow:
The News on Sunday: The PPP is a secular, progressive party, while Bajaur Agency is perceived as a very conservative tribal area. How did you manage to win the elections, particularly in the current circumstances?
Syed Akhunzada Chitan: Different people define secularism differently. For me, a secular person is adherent of the ideology of not imposing one"s religion on others by force. I also believe that Islam is the most secular religion. None of the prophets tried to force his religion or teachings on his community. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did not impose Islam even on the conquered. Most of the residents of Bajaur Agency belong to the Tableeghi Jamaat and are secular by my definition. If the security situation in the region is bad, it is not because of the tribesmen -- the miscreants in Bajaur Agency as well as elsewhere in Fata are foreigners who were thrust upon us.
TNS: Is this true that Fata has become the theatre of the New Great Game?
SAC: If the New Great Game means involvement of other countries, then it is true that Fata has become its theatre -- intelligence agencies of at least four countries (the United States, India, Israel and Afghanistan) are deeply involved in the region. At the same time, vices like poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment are rampant in the tribal area. We have to bear in mind that some people can do anything for monetary gains. The Taliban"s Bajaur Agency chief claims every now and then that his group is not involved in the killing of innocent people, but they are still being killed mercilessly in the tribal areas. Therefore, one can assume that agents of foreign intelligence agencies are creating the chaos in Fata. However, the ongoing violence is also an outcome of the wrong policies of our decision-makers. Had they not ignited fire in Afghanistan, no one would have dared to fan flames on our soil!
TNS: But isn"t it true that the Taliban was created during the second term of the late Benazir Bhutto as the country"s prime minister and it was the brainchild of the then interior minister Major General (r) Naseerullah Babar?
SAC: The Taliban cropped up at a time when warlords had made Afghanistan captive, and no one"s life, honour and property were safe there. When the group formed the government in Afghanistan, there was at least some respite for the people. It is another thing that this was not liked by the United States, especially in the wake of the 9/11 incidents. The PPP was no more in power by that time.
TNS: Do you agree that Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by Baitullah Mehsud"s associates? Could anyone from Fata do something of that magnitude?
SAC: Not at all. Those who assassinated Benazir Bhutto are the same people who had killed Liaquat Ali Khan, Ziaul Haq and others in the past. I don"t think that Benazir was killed by the Taliban and Baitullah Mehsud has also pleaded not guilty time and again. In fact, Baitullah and his associates have been made scapegoats by the powers-that-be. The PPP has also taken the position that Baitullah is not responsible for Benazir"s assassination.
TNS: Whether the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) should be abrogated altogether or only some of its specific provisions should to be struck down?
SAC: To transform the governance system in Fata, the Fata Reforms Committee (FRC) was constituted by former NWFP Governor Lieutenant General (r) Iftikhar Hussain Shah with retired judge Mian Ajmal Shah as its head. Representatives of political parties, journalists and religious groups; former bureaucrats who had served in Fata; and, above all, tribal elders were part of the FRC. If any changes are made in the light of recommendations of that committee, they would be acceptable to all of us. On the other hand, an overnight change will neither be accepted nor will it be effective. We think that instead of devising new policies, the current government should implement recommendations of the FRC, as a lot of time and efforts have already went into them. That committee completed its task independently, without taking dictation from the NWFP governor, political agents or any of the local politicians.
TNS: There has been a longstanding demand of the ANP and certain other political parties to merge Fata into the NWFP. What are your views on this?
SAC: Every political party has a different vision for Fata. If all of them stick to their respective stances, a solution to the problem would not be possible. Even if the tribal elders insist on their agenda, it would not work. The best solution is the one suggested by certain tribal quarters: a body must be formed for Fata on the lines of the Northern Areas" Legislative Council. The tribesmen must be given the right to legislate for themselves and form their own courts. It should be up to this council to decide whether to merge Fata in the NWFP or continue to remain under the federal government.
TNS: Are you in the favour of making Fata a separate province?
SAC: No. I am in the favour of setting up a FATA Legislative Council on the pattern of Northern Areas" Legislative Council. As said earlier, it should be left to this elected council to decide the fate of the tribal areas -- whether to merge them into the NWFP, form a new province or maintain the existing system.
TNS: Do you support the idea of establishing at least two modern cities in the tribal areas to change its socio-economic dynamics?
SAC: It is indeed a great idea, but unfortunately even today the tribal people are deprived of the basic necessities of life, like roads, education and health facilities, safe drinking water, etc. The people of the tribal areas are not even considered as human beings. My first need as a tribesman is that I should be considered as a human being and a citizen of Pakistan. It is painful to see that when a suicide attacker strikes in Lahore, the government forms three committees to probe the incident. On the other hand, when a bomb explodes in Fata, different kinds of security forces target the area and decimate it. The tribal people should first be considered as human beings. Next, they should be provided with human rights and other basic amenities of life. The remaining things come after these. A community cannot prosper in the absence of three things: basic democracy, social justice and education. Even if a community has everything except for the above three, it cannot progress. We, therefore, need democracy, social justice and education on a war footing.
TNS: Your party, the PPP, has government in the Centre and is a coalition partner in the NWFP government. Do you think that it will stop talking dictation from the US?
SAC: Absolutely yes. I am saying this not only on behalf of the PPP but also of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Whenever a truly representative government comes into power, it does not take dictation from without. We do not want to pick quarrels with other countries, but at the same time dictation is totally unacceptable to us.
TNS: Due to Fata"s geo-strategic importance, do you think that an international effort is needed to avert the crisis there?
SAC: No. This crisis does not need any international effort. The tribal areas are a part of Pakistan and we can sort out the problems among ourselves -- they cannot be settled by the outsiders. We know about our problems and their solutions much better than the others.
TNS: Does this mean that you want withdrawal of the military from Fata?
SAC: Yes, we would like the military"s withdrawal from Fata. Before the military invaded this region, there used to be exemplary peace and security here.
TNS: Many people advocate using the institution of jirga for solution to the problems in Fata. But don"t you think that jirga is no more a traditional tribal institution and has become quite corrupt now?
SAC: I agree that the institution of jirga has become quite corrupt over a period of time. Even those people have managed to become jirga members who were private servants of the Commissioner"s Office or the Governor"s House. These people, having relatives in Fata, requested their benefactors to make them Maliks. If one looks at the tribal elders, they only include those people who were nominated by their respective tribes. These people never take dictation from political agents and only they can form an independent jirga. Only such jirgas can make judicious decisions and impose penalties, not only on tribesmen but also on government officials, if found guilty of wrongdoing and excesses.
TNS: The government claims increasing substantially the development budget for Fata. Likewise, many foreign countries have pledged or have already given funds for the region. Have they been or would they be spent judiciously?
SAC: These finds are not for the tribal people, but for political agents. These funds would be spent in the Fata Secretariat and would end up in the personal coffers of political agents. Mostly, such funds are spent on purchasing expensive luxury vehicles for government officers.
TNS: What should be done to judiciously distribute the available funds?
SAC: Representatives of the tribal people should be given the power to use these funds according to the needs.
The masses have resigned themselves to the fact that they will spend a significant part of their coming days without access to electricity
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
In the midst of an unprecedented power crisis, Pakistanis are realising many things. The anger at the Musharraf regime for not having pre-empted the shortfall is palpable; at the very least the previous government could have prepared the general public by admitting its failure and issuing a warning about the tough times to come. There is also patience being exhibited towards the new government, as people are well aware that the crisis is not of the coalition"s making.
Of course patience does wear off and one fears that in the crippling heat of the summer months more incidents such as that which took place in Multan two weeks ago might recur with some regularity. But for the most part, many common people have resigned themselves to the fact that they will spend a significant part of their coming days without access to electricity.
At the risk of generalisation, however, I believe that the unfolding power crisis has yet to induce a questioning of the basic paradigm of material development that we all, knowingly or unknowingly, are party to. Here I am referring to the limitless urge to accumulate material goods and services, and then consume them. There can be no question that the power crisis has been caused by the state"s negligence and that those in power must be held accountable for this negligence. However, the crisis should also force a deeper introspection into the consumerist values that have penetrated deep into the moral fabric of society.
In the first instance, it should be borne in mind that in part the electricity shortage can be explained by the fact that many, many more Pakistanis have acquired electricity-dependent material possessions in recent times that have necessarily added to the burgeoning demand in the country. The country"s available infrastructure does not permit adequate supply of electricity; and because demand cannot be curtailed, power cuts are necessary. It is important to reiterate again that in large part the responsibility for this shortfall in supply / excess demand falls on the government, as it did not plan with enough foresight.
However, this does not mean that limitless consumption is a desirable goal and that the only concern of public policy should be to ensure adequate supply. There are numerous problems with this line of thinking, none more glaring than the fact that it ignores the ecological imperative that confronts all of humanity. Put quite simply, the natural environment that supports human life is not capable of bearing the burden of the consumption-heavy lifestyle that is commonplace in the advanced industrial societies and increasingly so in post-colonial societies like that of Pakistan.
To offer some perspective: if everyone on the planet was to expend natural resources at the current rate of the advanced industrial societies, the equivalent of nine planets would be necessary to support the human race. Another staggering fact: the emissions of the American state of Texas are equal to the combined emissions of all of Africa. These figures might suggest that the advanced industrial societies of the West should take primary responsibility and change their consumption patterns to address the impending ecological crisis.
And this is true, because the ethics of capitalist modernity are very much the ethics of the industrialised West. But this does not exonerate Pakistanis (or for that matter members of other post-colonial societies) from their share of the responsibility. Surely one cannot argue that the current trend towards greater and more reckless consumption in the post-colonial world is in any way a solution to the problem. Of course a large majority of people in countries like Pakistan remain deprived of the basic rights, such as food, clothing, shelter, health and education. But rather than addressing the deprivation of this majority, "development" has effectively become a catchphrase for a significant minority of the population dramatically increasing its consumption of non-necessities.
Besides the ecological implications of this uncontrolled increase in our "needs", there are serious moral implications. Already Pakistani society is crumbling under the pressure of crises of identity. However, as the ruthless ethics of neo-liberal markets penetrate deeper and deeper into society, more and more of us are metamorphosing into individuals out to acquire more and more material possessions, regardless of the implications that this ideology of accumulation might have on the wider society.
Returning to the power crisis, this individualistic materialism is manifest most obviously in the phenomenon of generators. As the state"s failure to plan equitable and sustainable economic growth and development becomes clear, more and more Pakistanis who can afford to are simply turning inwards and creating their own private electricity-guzzling havens by buying generators. What this means is that there is a matter-of-fact acceptance that the government is not delivering and a resort to a private, market-based solution, rather than a collective effort to redress the state"s failure and an attendant push to make the public sector deliver for all.
Of course, here again the vast majority of Pakistanis do not have recourse to the generator option. Thus the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, and so does fragmentation in society. Inevitably then, whenever anyone "from below" manages to graduate into a better income category, the prevailing trend is to ape those higher up in what is effectively a ruthless Darwinian chain. Seen in this light, it is quite hypocritical for the high elite in Pakistan to be contemptuous of the lack of "civic sense" in the plebeian masses. The elite have hardly made a good example of themselves.
In the absence of electricity, especially during summer nights, it is worth spending a little time reflecting on the society that we live in and the values that we are reinforcing. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that a significant and growing number of youth in this country would choose to buy the latest mobile phone over the relevant book that they need to proceed in their studies. There are many other examples of the clear moral choices that underlie the existing paradigm of "development". It is said that it will take three years for the government to make new power plants functional, so as to meet the existing demand. It is likely that the other more enduring crises that we face as a society and indeed as humanity at large will take a lot longer to resolve. And that too only if we acknowledge that these crises actually exist.
The looming crisis
Global food crisis is leading to growing social unrest and Pakistan is no exception
By Zubair Masood
A number of developing countries have recently suffered riots over rising food prices. In Haiti, even the prices of mud biscuits that the Haitians used for hunger pangs have risen, and shortage and high prices of food have given rise to social unrest and widespread protests. The protesters recently picketed in front of the presidential palace in Haitian capital Port-au-Prince and shouted slogans: "We are hungry." In the ensuing clashes with police, five protestors lost their lives. Egypt too has experienced political unrest because of increase in food prices. In March, 10 Egyptian protesters were killed in encounters with police at government-subsidised bakeries. In two incidents in Trinidad and Tobago, the protesters ambushed trucks carrying foodstuffs, while in the Philippines troops armed with M-16 rifles routinely guard convoys carrying food grains.
Pakistan is also experiencing serious social unrest because of more than 100 per cent increase in wheat / flour prices in the last year. Its case though is unique, as the country had a surplus wheat crop last year. But at a time when various countries were banning exports of food grains, General (r) Pervez Musharraf"s economic managers allowed the export of wheat. Later, his government failed to check wheat smuggling to neighbouring countries of India and Afghanistan, resulting in acute food shortage in the country. Even drastic measures like deploying troops at flourmills have failed to avert the self-inflicted crisis and the people are forced to line up for hours to get poor quality wheat / flour, that too at exorbitant prices.
Recent United Nations reports show that there has been an overall increase of 45 per cent in the food index in the last year. The prices of wheat and corn in this period have increased by 108 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively; while the prices of rice, which is the staple food of four billion people, have nearly doubled. The price increases have not remained confined to cereals -- the prices of poultry, eggs, meat and dairy products too have registered a sharp increase. The current situation is so bad that the poor in developing countries have to spend up to 75 per cent of their income only on food. This is in sharp contrast to the situation in Canada and the United States, where people on average spend only up to 15 per cent of their total income on food.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 848 million people worldwide are under-nourished; while 36 countries, most of them in Africa, are at the risk of political upheavals because of sky-high food prices. The risk is not confined to developing countries. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who heads the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has warned of "dire consequences if food crisis remains high in developing countries." This, he believes, will create trade imbalances that would adversely affect the developed economies as well.
In the last 50 years, the farmers have adopted improved irrigation techniques, genetically modified seeds and mechanised farming to increase agricultural production. The Green Revolution they ushered in brought about 50 per cent increases in food production during the years 1980 to 2000. During the same period, however, the world population increased from 4.4 billion to 6.1 billion, thus nullifying the gains made. The world population in 1950 was 2.5 billion. In 50 years, it has increased to 6.5 billion. By the year 2030, it may rise to 8.2 billion; and by 2050, to 12 billion. There are genuine apprehensions that food production might fail to keep pace with the growing population. An exponential population growth, therefore, is a big challenge, especially for developing countries where the birth rates are on the high side.
On the other hand, global warming and resulting climatic changes worldwide have actually reduced food production. Lester Brown, director of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute, warns that global warming reduces crop yields. Because of higher than normal temperatures and lesser rainfall, Australia, which is the world"s third largest wheat exporter after the US and Canada, has seen its grain production reduce by 40 per cent during the last three years. Wheat production in Ukraine has fallen too. Similarly, drought like conditions have prevailed in areas falling in Mediterranean Sea basin, western US, parts of southern Africa and north-eastern Brazil, resulting in lower crop yields in these areas.
Experts agree that other things remaining constant, 1 degree Celsius increase in average world temperatures shall cause 10 per cent decrease in agricultural production -- and they foresee 2-5 degrees Celsius increase in world temperatures by the end of this century. Faced with global warming, and high prices of oil and natural gas, developed countries have replaced up to 10 per cent gasoline by bio-fuel ethanol, but huge quantities of food grains, sugarcane and soya bean are required for producing ethanol.
In 2008, the US will be using 18 per cent of its grains for producing the bio-fuel ethanol. The European Union, which proposes to use 5.75 per cent bio-fuel by 2010, shall be using 20 per cent of its arable land for the purpose; while Australia shall be using 40 per cent of its wheat crop for 10 per cent unleaded gasoline. This use or rather abuse of foodstuff for the bio-fuel has aggravated the food crisis; and IMF analysts are of the view that production of ethanol is responsible for half the increase in prices of food. Development group Oxfam"s Policy Advisor Elizabeth Stuart warns: "Thousands and hundreds of thousands of people will be starving and children will be suffering from malnutrition, with consequences for all their lives."
Germany"s Development Minister Heidemari Wieczorek-Zeul says: "It is unacceptable for the export of agro-fuels to pose a threat to the supply situation of the very people already living in poverty." However, a total ban on the production of this alternate fuel shall further increase oil and gas prices. The prices of crude this week rose to an all time high of $ 117 a barrel. Farm machines like tractors and harvesters use gasoline. Similarly, tube-wells and turbines used for irrigation as well as transport vehicles operate largely on gasoline. Increases in the prices of fossil fuels, therefore, inexorably lead to increases in the cost of food production.
Another contributory factor to the food price increases is speculative investment in agricultural commodities. The demand of these commodities is greater than their production and their prices, therefore, have increased. Seeing windfall profits, the traders are investing heavily in these commodities, thus further jacking up the prices. Moreover, the emerging middle classes in developing countries have a noticeable preference for poultry and meat products. This preference has not only increased the prices of these products, but also the prices of food grains because they are used in the manufacture of chicken and livestock feeds.
The worsening food situation and the resulting political unrest has given a rude wake-up call to the international community, which is now debating the possible solutions to this crisis. In a recent conference, World Bank President Robert Zoellick said: "We must respond to the immediate emergency situation." The UN World Food Programme has demanded that the international community must contribute an additional sum of $ 500 million for meeting food shortages in the short-term. In the mean time, the world food reserves are fast depleting. According to conservative estimates, the world may have 96 million tonne grain shortfall this year. The problem is serious, even more serious than the one posed by soaring oil prices; and if left unattended, it might snowball into starvation and famine in some developing countries.
(The writer is a retired Pakistani civil servant currently based in Canada.
Only a hunger-free Pakistan can guarantee a peaceful and prosper future
By Shafqat Munir
The prices of wheat / flour have increased by almost three times in the last year and have almost doubled in the last four months. As a result, an average meal now costs 50 per cent more in Pakistan, and the poor are fast plunging into hunger or malnutrition due to skipping of meals. Hence the increasing hunger due to food shortage and high prices of commodities, besides loss of livelihoods, is fast becoming the biggest challenge for the new government. This challenge is directly linked with three other major challenges: of power shortage, of worsening law and order situation, and of the superior judiciary"s restoration.
The 10 most food-insecure districts in Pakistan, mostly in Balochistan and the NWFP, are the main areas of trouble -- most of the extremist and violent movements have emerged from here. This is the time to understand the real issues. Only a hunger-free Pakistan can guarantee a peaceful and prosper future. "I cannot buy sufficient atta (flour) to feed my family with a meager daily income. It has become too tough now, as I have to stand in queue for hours to get a bag of flour. At times, this is at the cost of my earning for that day," says Jamil Ahmad, 38, a daily wage-earner in Rawalpindi.
Jamil is not alone -- hundreds of thousands of people across the country have similar complaints. Many of them even say that their families have reduced their daily meals in order to cope with the situation. In this context, it would not be far-fetched to say that many such people from the 10 most food-insecure districts in Pakistan might have joined the extremist groups to secure a meal for their families.
Jamil is among those 66 per cent Pakistanis who earn less than two dollars (Rs 125) a day. His total earning of four days is hardly enough to buy a bag of flour. Even with his weekly earning, provided he gets uninterrupted job for the whole week (something unfamiliar for a daily wage-earner), he cannot ensure a healthy meal three times a day for his family. Jamil feels even more vulnerable now, as he is not sure for how many days he would be able to provide food to his family.
Figures tell that the price of flour has increased by 130 per cent and that of rice by 74 per cent in the last year, making an increasing number of people vulnerable to poverty. This enormous increase in the prices of staples, coupled with the increase in petroleum prices, has literally reduced by more than half the purchasing power and actual income of the poor. The common people used to spend 50 per cent of their income on food till recently, but now they have to spend as much as 80 per cent of their income for this purpose. According to a conservative estimate, 75 million people are currently facing food poverty in Pakistan.
Food price rise-related crisis persists not only in Pakistan, but hounds the whole of Asia and the Pacific. Food economists predict that the recent price-hike in Asia will add 100 million to the number of the poor in the region. If we follow the two dollars a day criterion of measuring poverty, 1.2 billion people in Asia and the Pacific are poor; while if we follow the one dollar a day criterion of measuring poverty, 600 million people in Asia and the Pacific are poor, and, thus, vulnerable to the recent price-hike.
The global statistics tell that more than 850 million people across the globe, the vast majority of whom lives in poor countries, go hungry every day, despite the fact that there is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes -- one child in every five seconds. One in five people in developing countries is chronically undernourished, though constitutions of most countries guarantee right to food.
While most Asian countries are facing acute food shortage and increase in rice prices, Pakistan and Afghanistan are facing shortage of flour, their staple. This shortage led to the price-hike that forced the poor to run from pillar to post to get a bag of flour at subsidised rates -- there is a price difference of almost Rs 100 on a 10-kilogram bag of flour between the government Utility Stores and the open market -- it is available at the government fair price shops at Rs 130 per 10 kilograms, while it is being sold in the open market for Rs 230-240 per 10 kilograms. Pakistan has to rely on wheat imports and on the forthcoming crop, for which the government has already increased the support price. This is also being regarded as one of the factors leading to the current price-hike, though it was necessary as an incentive to encourage the farmers to grow more wheat.
Another food crisis is also in the offing. While other Asian countries have put a halt on their rice exports, owing to domestic shortages, Pakistani rice exporters are exporting the commodity -- and that too on low prices, as they seek rebate from the government against the total quantity they had exported. Rice, which is the second staple in Pakistan, could have helped reduce the panic among general public, but its continued export also led to price-hike. So the people of Pakistan neither have flour nor rice in the purchase range.
The recent wheat crisis is being attributed to some sort of miscalculation and fudging of data by the previous government, smuggling and hoarding, and profiteering. These were also the causes of the sugar crisis and would be of the brewing rice crisis following the wheat shortfall. The media has already exposed the previous government"s role in the wheat crisis. Instead of timely investing to resolve the emerging wheat crisis, the caretaker government seemed interested in buying two Augusta Westland helicopters for VVIP movement, costing $ 60 million to the national exchequer.
There was a lot of criticism in the National Assembly the other day of the havoc played with the nation by the Shaukat Aziz government. The parliamentarians blamed him for the multiple crises the nation is facing. What Shaukat reportedly did was that he got it declared that Pakistan had a bumper wheat crop, just to please the World Bank so that more loans could be obtained. Shaukat reportedly forced the food department"s officials to fudge the production figures, though they were hesitant to do that.
The then Shaukat government, showing a bumper wheat crop, reportedly exported millions of tonnes of wheat at a price of $ 200 per tonne. Since these estimates were fudged, within a couple of month the wheat shortage crisis began to unfold. To cope with it, the then government purchased half a million tonnes of wheat at the rate of $ 511 per tonne from the United States and Canada; and 0.4 million tonnes at the rate of $ 450 per tonne from Ukraine. Some blame that it was deliberately done for rent seeking. That is why the parliamentarians have demanded a strong action against those who were involved in the wheat scandal that gave them over Rs 16 billion illegally.
"The wheat and flour crisis in Pakistan is more because of bad governance and mismanagement, rather than the international food price-hike. This crisis may lead not only to food insecurity but to joblessness too, as the daily wage-earners have to spend more time in finding flour and compromise education as children chase flour while their elders go to earn livelihoods," says Aftab Alam Khan, who works with an international development agency.
(The writer is Islamabad-based journalist.
Who"ll fill the vacuum?
The decision to boycott the recent general elections has deprived the nationalist parties in Balochistan of any chance to become an active part of the parliamentary politics
By Arif Tabassum
The recent general elections proved that the people of Pakistan had serious reservations about the eight-year-long period of "controlled democracy" and, therefore, they paved the way for democratic forces to assume power. The fear that the elections would be massively rigged at all levels was dispelled after the King"s Party was trounced in them. In this context, the boycott decision of the All Parties" Democratic Movement (APDM) was a serious miscalculation. In particular, the nationalist parties suffered a great loss as a result of this decision.
The PakhtoonKhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), the National Party (NP), the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) and the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) remained completely aloof from the election process, while the Awami National Party (ANP) contested them and reaped benefits -- for the first time since the 1970 elections, it was able to gain representation in the Balochistan Assembly. Though some political analysts believe that the NP the BNP-M contested the elections through "independent" candidates, both parties deny this accusation -- perhaps because this entails taking action against those party members who did not abide by the APDM"s boycott decision. In short, this decision deprived the nationalist parties of any chance to become an active part of the parliamentary politics.
The current Balochistan Assembly is dominated by the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), the Balochistan National Party-Awami (BNP-A) and the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), while the government is led by the Pakistan People"s Party (PPP) that got the second highest number of seats in the elections. A large number of MPAs elected on the PML-Q"s ticket formed a "like-minded group" in the provincial assembly and announced support for the PPP. As expected, the BNP-A, the JUI-F, the ANP and almost all independent MPAs also extended support to the PPP. In the end, the remaining PML-Q MPAs also decided to become part of the ruling coalition. So, the PPP-led government got the support of all but one of the 62 current members of the Balochistan Assembly and the opposition comprises just one member.
The progressive Baloch nationalist parties have no representation at all in the provincial assembly; thus a vacuum has been created, as there is no one to actively oppose anti-Baloch policies, which is alarming for the province. Interestingly, an attempt to fill the vacuum created by the absence of nationalist parties was made in the very first session by the BNP-A, whose members demanded and took oath as MPAs in Balochi. Members of the ANP, the only ray of hope for progressive Pakhtoons in the province, also demanded and took oath as MPAs in Pashto.
The major demands of the nationalist parties -- like investigations into the killings of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Balach Marri, an end to military operation in the province, the release of former Balochistan chief minister Sardar Akhtar Mengal, etc -- have already been presented in the form of a joint resolution, which was adopted unanimously, in the Balochistan Assembly. Interestingly, the resolution was supported by even those MPAs who were themselves part of the previous provincial government, which did not allow a thorough discussion on such issues in the assembly. These MPAs, belonging to the "like-minded group" of the PML-Q, the JUI-F and the BNP-A, after remaining in power for five years, are now trying to prove that only they could safeguard the interests of the people of Balochistan.
Of these MPAs, only Muhammad Aslam Bhootani -- though part of the previous provincial government -- had the courage to criticise the actions and policies of the Centre vis-a-vis Balochistan, as he was more inclined towards the Baloch nationalist parties. The remaining members of the ruling coalition, on the other hand, failed to play any role in either tackling provincial issues or delivering on promises of development projects. Members of the current ruling coalition know very well that to in order survive politically, they would have to prove their nationalist credentials. The Baloch nationalist parties, however, continue to distrust them. Talal Bugti, the son of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti who currently heads the JWP, even warned MPAs who were also part of the previous government not to play the nationalist card.
The nationalist question has always dominated the Baloch politics, but the nationalist parties have never really been in power in the province, except the short tenures of Sardar Attaullah Mengal and Sardar Akhtar Mengal. The establishment, with the tacit support of the elite classes, has been holding the reins of power in Balochistan since it became a part of Pakistan. Many people believe that it is the strategic importance and rich natural resources of the province that sustain the elitist lifestyle of the pro-establishment factions. Hence Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani, owing to his nationalist and tribal background, is under immense pressure. Though he belongs to the PPP, the establishment fears that he would allow the Centre to continue controlling the province"s vast resources.
The people of Balochistan also doubt the intentions of the BNP-A, the PML Q and the JUI-F, and see their newfound "love" for Baloch nationalism as a ploy on the part of the establishment. The BNP-A is trying strategically to portray itself as the only progressive Baloch nationalist party, while the NP and the BNP-M -- through their members who were elected as independent candidates in the recent elections -- are trying to counter this move. The group of independently-elected MPAs, led by Sardar Aslam Bizinjo, can also create problems for the BNP-A in this regard. Political analysts also fear that if the mood of the current provincial government remains along the same nationalist lines, it might not be able to survive for long.
On the other hand, Pakhtoon nationalists are represented only by the ANP in the Balochistan Assembly. The PkMAP"s decision to boycott the elections not only kept the progressive Pakhtoons out of the parliamentary politics, but also benefitted the JUI-F tremendously -- whose candidates won the elections only from the Pakhtoon belt of the province, though they do not represent Pakhtoons and consider themselves to be the flag bearers of Islam. The Pakhtoon MPAs belonging to other parties in the current ruling coalition lack a genuine understanding of the issues. The three ANP members in the Balochistan Assembly are not enough to fight the Pakhtoon case. Thus Pakhtoons also fear being left out of the development process in the province.
The nationalist parties, both Baloch and Pakhtoon, are now being blamed even by their second-tier leadership and workers for taking the politically incorrect decision of boycotting the elections. Having no role in the policy-making, these parties are now left with no other choice but to hold demonstrations for making their presence felt. Had they contested the elections, and been elected to the provincial assembly in a large number, they could have addressed the root causes of many enduring problems.
(The writer is a Quetta-based socio-political analyst.
It is important to understand the working of private schools in order to regulate their performance
By Meraj Humayun Khan
The concern regarding different systems of education being offered in the province has been expressed repeatedly through the media and at different discussion forums. The public is understandably unhappy at the difference in the quality of people coming out from different types of educational institutions. They contend that students from the elitist schools monopolise the power structures and rule the majority coming out from public schools. In the recent years, the issue of student militias being created in educational institutions has deepened the concern of parents as well as the government.
The three major categories of schools in the NWFP are public or government schools providing free education till class 10; private schools running with funds generated through receipt of tuition and other fees on monthly basis; and madrassas providing free education, food and accommodation with Islamic studies as its focus. All three groups make their own policies and develop their own strategies to address the issue of lack of education. There is no platform where they could get together, and work for a more harmonised system of learning and instruction. Of the 36,430 institutions providing primary to higher secondary education, 74 per cent are public, 13 per cent are private and 13 per cent are madrassas. Public schools take care of 77 per cent of the students, private schools of 19 per cent and madrassas of the remaining four per cent.
Public schools can be divided in two categories: 1) English-medium centres of excellence that impart fairly good quality education -- cadet colleges, public schools and centennial schools; and 2) Ordinary government schools where the medium of instruction is Urdu or the mother tongue, and which impart poor quality education. Similarly, private schools can be divided into three categories: 1) English-medium schools affiliated with universities in the United Kingdom and offering O" Levels; 2) English-medium schools using Pakistani syllabus and linked with the NWFP boards of examination; and 3) Schools of poor quality where the medium of instruction is Urdu or the mother tongue.
It is important to understand the working of private schools in order to regulate their performance and make them more accessible to the vast majority of people. All private schools charge monthly fees and the funds thus generated are spent on different development heads, still leaving a profit margin for the owners. Currently there is no bar on opening a school, and the recent years have seen a rapid growth in the number of private schools. Every now and then, the government issues a statement vowing to close down unwanted institutions or warning people to stop sending their children to private schools. But the fact is that there is no policy for private schooling and a majority of the employees of the NWFP Education Department themselves opt for private education of their children. There are currently 4,884 registered private schools in the NWFP, with an intake of 931,762 students between the ages of five and 14.
In a recent meeting between the NWFP Education Department and representatives of private schools, the idea of a separate Directorate for Private Schools was floated. The department agreed to the idea in principle, but asked for time to first determine its financial implications. Another request that the department has been receiving repeatedly is the waiving of all taxes levied on private schools. During discussions within the department on these two issues, the Elementary Education Foundation (EEF) and its mandate also came under review. The foundation was established in 2001 with a 40 billion government endowment to facilitate the private sector through grants and loans. The foundation is fully functional with a BPS-20 officer as its managing director, assisted by a deputy director and a compliment of staff in all districts. It is semi-autonomous body with a board of directors, headed by the NWFP chief minister, to supervise its operations.
Administratively, the EEF comes under the NWFP Schools and Literacy Department. However, the foundation started implementing its own independent programme of literacy in poor-quality centres opened in all the districts of the province. Thus it was decided that the EEF should stick to its mandate of assisting private schools and take full responsibility for regulating the functioning of the private sector. There is solid justification for this -- the boards of intermediate and secondary education (BISEs), which are currently acting as the regulatory authority for private schools, are examination bodies that cannot do justice to develop a vibrant private sector. They take interest only in the secondary and higher secondary levels, because they arrange examinations for these levels. Secondly, the registration fees charged by the BISEs is not invested in education.
In short, the EEF will become more productive by ensuring registration at the time of establishment of a school and subsequent annual renewal; regular monitoring to ensure that the schools are mandating a respectably good standard of programme delivery in line with government policies; data collection for incorporation in the department"s annual statistical report; and arranging coordination meetings between representatives of public and private sectors to share experiences and plan interventions. Advantages of handing over the complete responsibility to the EEF are obvious.
Information sharing, coordination and data collection will improve interaction between the private and public sector schooling, which would lead to resource sharing and improvement in service delivery. Above all, the primary and middle levels of education that are totally neglected by the BISEs will get attention. Funds generated through collection of registration fees will be ploughed back into education by providing grants and loans for construction, training, learning material development, etc. It is highly recommended that schools should be categorised using the checklist and criteria prepared by the BISE, Peshawar, in consultation with representatives of private schools.
(The writer is a former provincial educationminister.)
Behaviour change communication is considered as one of the main pillars of modern public health system
By Dr Zaeemul Haq
Watching television advertisements on HIV/AIDS, I often wonder how many people understood that Qurbat kay taaluqat mein ihtiat meant safe sexual relations? Another question that comes to my mind is that do these advertisements of 20-30 seconds give enough information to generate a meaningful discussion on the subject, the primary objective of using mass media for health campaigns? Also, are these advertisements backed by skillful counselling from health providers?
In this backdrop, a recently published advertisement of the National Aids Control Programme (NACP), inviting proposals for the evaluation of its behaviour change communication (BCC) strategy, came as a pleasant surprise. A similar advertisement was also published by National TB Control Programme (NTP), soliciting proposals for the formative research on its BCC strategy, for developing the media products and for organising public relation activities. The NACP and the NTP collectively spend millions of rupees every year on their BCC campaigns. Overall, the Ministry of Health and its various preventive programmes spend more than Rs 200 million annually on BCC campaigns.
BCC can be called a combination of both art and science -- art because the related messages should be attractive, appealing and creative; science because thorough research must go into the analysis of the problem, the role of behaviour in that problem and the different contributors to that behaviour. In addition, a keen eye should keep watch on whether the desired changes are taking place or not? It is this potential of being able to change behaviours because of which BCC is considered as one of the main pillars of modern public health system.
BCC was originally termed health education, as experts believed that providing knowledge to communities was enough to facilitate a positive change in health behaviours. After decades of this one-way education, with almost no desired results achieved, the experts realised this strategy needed to be changed. The simultaneous developments in the field of psychology informed that behaviours were a result of a variety of factors, many of which were related to the environment. These environmental factors operate on individuals and regulate their health behaviours. It was, therefore, suggested that rather than imparting one-way education, the recipients should be given a chance to describe the factors that make them adopt a behaviour considered unhealthy by others. Thus this one-way education evolved into two-way communication.
The money spent on this two-way communication is justified, because it can save a lot of expenditure to be incurred on treatment of diseases that arise out of unhealthy behaviours. Take the example of administering unsafe injections and the ominous diseases like Hepatitis B or C resulting from this practice. Careless administration of injections with a used needle, which is a common practice in our country, is the main cause of transmitting these liver-damaging infections from one patient to the other. Pakistan tops the list of those countries where maximum number of injections are administered the people. According to estimates, on average every Pakistani is administered 4.5 injections each year. Studies indicate that 94 per cent of these injections are administered with used equipment. The irony is that most of the times the injections given are worthless, have no role in the treatment and can be avoided.
Injections are administered because health providers think that patients want them, while patients think that they are been administered because health providers consider them necessary. The end result is that avoidable injections are administered in an unsafe manner, transmitting diseases that are either untreatable or require a lot of money on treatment. Studies conducted in various hospitals inform that about three per cent Pakistanis suffer from Hepatitis B, while 5.3 per cent from Hepatitis C. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 62 per cent cases of Hepatitis B and 84 per cent cases of Hepatitis C in Pakistan are because of the practice of administering unsafe injections. It takes from Rs 100,000-300,000 to treat a patient of Hepatitis B or C with interferon injections. Even after this huge spending, the recovery rates are low. Of 100 deaths in the country, 4.5 are attributable to one or other form of Hepatitis.
Diabetes, high blood pressure, lung cancer, heart attack and many of the infections result from an unhealthy behaviour, and proper communication can help improve that behaviour. This improved behaviour will not only help avoid such conditions, but the high expenditures on their treatment, the consequences of treatment failures and the resulting misery faced by the families of these patients can also be averted with the help of suitable health messages. But there is a caveat! For communication to be effective, it has to be well-informed and evidence-based. Before messages are developed, the communicator should know what kind of health behaviour is desired and why it is not happening at the moment? In addition, one should also know the evidence of what worked in other societies facing similar health situation.
Sending out a message to correct some behaviour without knowing the causative factors usually has no or little impact. Many a time the knowledge provided by the health professionals convinces individuals, bringing them close to trying and testing the suggested behaviour but an environmental factor prohibits this experiment. For example, a television message might inform that smoking is injurious to health, yet if the peers are insisting, a teen is likely to continue with this adventure. A health worker might advise a pregnant woman to have balanced diet, yet the woman may not use it because she is poor and thinks her family cannot afford it.
Building the component of impact assessment right in the beginning of a communication campaign helps keep the programme on track. A lack of conducting relevant research and using data takes the communication programme to nowhere. The data regarding risk behaviour for HIV/AIDS informs that the most vulnerable group in the country is the drug addicts, who use injections and are called injecting drug users (IDUs). These IDUs carry a high risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS, as they often resort to unsafe practices like sharing needles and syringes. Commercial sex workers are considered as the second most vulnerable group, as they have low knowledge on safe sex and cannot negotiate safe methods with their clients because of lack of power and legal cover. Truck drivers are another group vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. These groups should be the prime target audience for BCC activities of the NACP. But the glossy standees displayed at different places in the major cities on this year"s World AIDS Day depicted an audience and a message that were in stark contrast to the available data.
Raising awareness about the disease and bringing suspected cases to the health facility has been the main objective of BCC campaigns of the NPT. Now that the programme is planning to conduct formative research for new phase of its BCC activities, an in-depth analysis should be conducted into why the previous campaigns have not been successful? What are the major segments of population suspected to have TB, why they are not accessing health facility at the moment and do the existing TB messages cater to these reasons? Many helpful conclusions can be made by conducting a thorough analysis of the information that is already available.
Behaviour change is a process that occurs over time. While assessing the effectiveness of a campaign, different levels of change need to be kept in mind. This change can be envisaged as a step ladder with improvement in knowledge, intentions and practices as the various steps. The method of assessing this change should not be one that complicates the things. It is highly illogical to spend millions of rupees on evaluating a project with few reading the report and fewer being able to understand it. Simple indicators, local data and self-measurement serve best, as they enable the programme to learn lessons, continue with what worked and make improvements where required. Perhaps this requires a change in those who are aiming to bring about a change in others.
(The writer works with Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs.