Distinguished Chair, Panelists, and Participants: Good morning.
I would like to first congratulate PIDE on its 30th anniversary and for keeping the tradition of dialogue and knowledge sharing alive in Pakistan all these years. It is indeed a laudable achievement. We are grateful for your leadership on debating development issues confronting the country. I would particularly like to thank the organizers for providing us the opportunity to discuss the findings of the ‘Addressing Inequality in South Asia’ Report at this forum.
The topic of inequality holds great significance and relevance to the World Bank Group’s vision and its twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. The two goals are closely interrelated to reducing inequality. Extensive Bank research shows that poverty reduction gains are faster in more inclusive environments. Evidence also shows that it is much harder to share prosperity in extremely unequal societies. The reason is that inequality matters not just in itself, but because it conditions the access to basic services, the development of markets and institutions, and the degree of cohesiveness of a society and, by the same token, its capacity to prevent conflict.
Pakistan is a case in point. According to official data, when measured by household consumption, the country has significantly reduced extreme poverty and inequality is also low and falling. But when we look at the bottom 40 percent, a cohort used as a proxy for shared prosperity, their economic welfare only grew modestly. This has resulted in a large number of people living quite close to the poverty threshold who remain vulnerable to economic shocks. We may wonder why? Well, this is precisely the outcome of the inequality of opportunities in land ownership, access to services, and assets. One important challenge in addressing inequality however is underreporting and data gaps. Without reliable data, it is difficult to accurately measure and analyze inequality in support of public policies.
The World Bank Group has been working with the Pakistan Government at federal and provincial level on poverty and inequality issues. Our Country Partnership Strategy for Pakistan (2015-19) identifies ‘Inclusion’ as a strategic priority to help address the inequities within and across provinces, for vulnerable population particularly women and youth; and those in the conflict affected areas. Our programs are focused first on enhancing the country capacity for measurement and analysis of poverty and inequality, and to improve reliability of data; second on improving access to and quality of social service delivery and safety net; and third, on accelerating inclusive growth, job creation and financial inclusion.
I hope today’s deliberations will add to the growing body of knowledge in the country; and will help inform the design and implementation of WBG’s Strategy and program in Pakistan.
I look forward to the discussion and thank you once again for your time and participation.