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Pakistani politician Imran Khan, chief of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, addresses his supporters during an election campaign in Lahore, Pakistan, July 23, 2018.
K.M. Chaudary/AP
Citizenship

Pakistan Unveils Plan to Make Health Care, Housing, and Food Fundamental Human Rights

Why Global Citizens Should Care
More than half of Pakistan’s population live in multidimensional poverty, which covers issues such as housing, education, health care, and more. The United Nations is working to end extreme poverty and you can join us in taking action on this issue here.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan unveiled an ambitious anti-poverty plan on Wednesday that seeks to make housing, health care, food, and education fundamental human rights, according to the New York Times.

Khan said that the government would allocate 80 billion rupees (more than US $500 million), to the initiative, and increase funding for this project by 50% by 2021.

“No Pakistani government has spent so much money on alleviating poverty in the past,” Khan said Wednesday during a ceremony in Islamabad, the capital city. “The government has launched a war against poverty.”

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Pakistan is currently mired in a financial crisis, which could make the implementation of the plan difficult as measures of poverty increase throughout the country. However, the prime minister said that financial challenges shouldn’t stand in the way of efforts to alleviate poverty and suffering.

The government also faces budget shortfalls. It’s currently working on a financial bailout package with the International Monetary Fund, and is asking for financial support from key allies such as China, which has been willing to invest massively in international development efforts.  

Prime Minister Khan came to power vowing to fight poverty and corruption and improve living standards throughout the country.

As of 2015, Pakistan had a multidimensional poverty rate of 38.8%, with higher rates of poverty in rural areas, and a “deprivation rate,” which looks at things like housing quality and access to health care, of 50.9%, according to the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative.

More than 60% of Pakistanis struggle to find enough food to eat, and 3.8 million children in the country have to work to support their families, according to the anti-poverty nonprofit the Borgen Project. Women are especially susceptible to multidimensional poverty, and violence against girls and women remains rampant, according to the UN.

Read More: What Does Pakistan’s New Prime Minister Imran Khan Mean for Poverty and Inequality?

Khan’s plan — dubbed “Ehsas,” or “Empathy” — is comprehensive in its approach to poverty. The plan would expand access to health care, provide financial assistance to families buying homes, and empower women to pursue higher education and enter the workforce. Under the plan, the government would spend more money on education and social services for people experiencing homelessness, transgender people, and children.

“In terms of social welfare, Pakistan probably ranks as one of the lowest countries in the world,” Marvin Weinbaum, director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies at the Middle East Institute, told Global Citizen. “There’s nothing really in the way of any kind of safety net, so in that sense, this plan represents, were it to be fulfilled, an important part of what’s missing in Pakistan.”

“This is virtually a New Deal for Pakistan,” he said. “It would change Pakistan from being a security state to being a social welfare state.”

Khan announced that a new ministry that brings together several existing departments will be formed to oversee the initiative.

The prime minister’s signature issue during his campaign was to combat corruption, and Weinbaum said that Khan may run into problems as the bureaucracy is expanded. The anti-corruption coalition Transparency International ranks Pakistan as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

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“It’s all in the question of implementation,” Weinbaum said. “It could be successful if it’s kept out of the hands of the usual crowd of people who are accustomed to scraping off things for themselves. Generally in Pakistan, there are very few contracts where there’s not something set aside for the facilitators.”

When announcing the plan, Khan said China served as an inspiration. Over the past several decades, more than 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty in China, the most rapid social transformation in history.

“The good news here is that at least he’s set out a set of objective that are very much in the interest in the country,” Weinbaum said.