Pakistan's Ehsaas Program

A Critical Examination of Pakistan’s Ehsaas Program

Pakistan’s Ehsaas Poverty Alleviation Program was created in March 2019 to alleviate the suffering of the severely poor by direct action.

The objective of the Ehsaas Program

Its prime objective was to alleviate the economic miseries of Pakistan’s most vulnerable portion of society, which is around 3.5 percent or 8 million individuals and includes economically impoverished men, women, handicapped persons, and marginalized elements of society.

The real question

The real question is whether Ehsaas Program significantly helps the disadvantaged.

The aim of this research

This opinion piece would aim to analyze the causes of chronic poverty and vulnerability in Pakistan and weigh the efficacy of the Ehsaas program against them.

Background of Ehsaas Program

By altering the constitution article 38, Prime Minister Imran Khan intends to institutionalize the government’s active engagement in social protection.

Senator Dr. Sania Nishtar, the Federal Government’s head of the Ehsaas program, embarked on this new role after overseeing BISP and brought with her extensive expertise in disbursing financial handouts to the most vulnerable parts of society.

Years of dealing with phony claims, inaccurate national poverty ledgers, and unscrupulous bureaucrats had prepared her for the task of cleaning up poverty data this time.

Dr. Nishtar rolled out an IT-enabled hybrid system that cross-matched online queries by applicants with their spending histories on the Federal Board of Revenue, State Bank, Commercial Banks, and NADRA databases. Since then, over a million people have been removed from the list of deserving persons.

Then came the April 2020 Corona shutdown, and Pakistan’s already disadvantaged segment began to feel the strain of reduced economic activity as Pakistan’s growth rate plummeted from 5.8 percent in 2018 to 0.5 percent in 2020.

During this period, Dr. Nishtar distributed a record Rs 160 billion to 13.2 million individuals, with an additional 7.5 million receiving Emergency Cash Disbursement, preventing “starvation” for the most disadvantaged groups.

Eligibility of Ehsaas Emergency Cash program

The procedure is so clear that you may check your eligibility by just texting your CNIC number to 8171.

Dr. Nishtar and the Ehsaas program have received several worldwide accolades for their timely effort.

Ehsaas Program cleared by International Donors

As a result of this achievement, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) contributed more, and the World Bank agreed to pay $ 600 million for 2021, placing it fourth globally in terms of people covered and third in terms of percentage population covered (among countries surpassing 100 million people).

Disbursements totaled 6.2 million individuals and Rs 77 billion in January-June 2021.

Ehsaas Initiative Sub-Programs

This institution, like other government entities, has increased in size and mission since then.

Ehsaas currently comes under the newly formed Ministry of Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division and has various additional high-profile sub-programs such as

  • Ehsaas Kifalat– to offer Rs 2000 stipend to orphans, widows, and smartphones to increase digital inclusion.
  • Nashonuma – Founded with the primary goal of assisting with the diet of malnourishment that is widespread among newborn children and mothers, which is believed to be up to 40% of the population. Up until August 2021, Rs 114 million has been distributed in Pakistan’s 14 lowest districts.
  • Tahafuz – It is to unscheduled expenditure Protection Safety net of monetary outlay for unexpected health difficulties.
  • Undergraduate Scholarship – This amazing scholarship program has awarded up to 100% of a five-year degree tuition price and a Rs 4000 per month living stipend to 50000 meritorious candidates.
  • Emergency cash transfer – this is the main initiative of the Ehsaas program, comparable to BISP but on a bigger scale. This initiative distributed emergency payments of Rs 12000 per household in 2020, with a total outlay of Rs 203 Billion.

Analysis

The easiest method to judge the performance of any of these projects is to look at where Pakistan stood in 2019 Vs what data shows today.

  • In 2021, the government has successfully brought together all safety net programs and elevated Social Protection from a division to a ministerial level, with the Prime Minister’s ear, which has enhanced efficacy.
  • An amendment to Article 38 of the Constitution to include food, clothes, housing, and health as basic rights of people makes sense, given that Muslim society is primarily a welfare society. The main issue is getting a constitutional modification ratified in Pakistan, which has a profoundly divided political system. As a result, the modification is still pending.
  • The Ehsaas program’s vision paper mentions “addressing elite capture” of society against inequalities in taxes and water management, which is a long ask from a simple emergency cash disbursement platform. Furthermore, elite capture in Pakistan has been linked to a lopsided political structure that a single senator cannot overcome.
  • The Tahafuz (protection) program aims to provide disadvantaged people with legal help, educational subsidies, and medical insurance. None of these responsibilities are directly tied to social protection; instead, each of these tasks is overseen by a distinct ministry.
  • The Kifalat Program (Patron) offers financial stipends, an orphan refuge, health coverage, and livelihood recovery activities. It appears noble on paper, but it is a crowd-financed social protection initiative.
  • Prime Minister anticipates creating legislation and programs for the welfare of the poor, aged, orphans, widows, laborers, and Pakistani workers overseas – has a decent possibility of success in a democratic framework – but does not correspond with globally recognized social protection techniques.
  • The Ehsaas manifesto then talks about access to quality education, skills, jobs, Universal Health Coverage, and measures to empower women and girls, which appear daunting for a government office that specializes in direct emergency fund disbursement and a better-compiled database of deserving people.
  • National Poverty Database, available to all benefactors to pick and select their areas of engagement, promotes transparency, which should be appreciated.
  • Similarly, the ease with which technology, particularly after 2018, can be used to reach out to the most disadvantaged and prune data is unparalleled in Pakistan.
  • The general public searches for the Ehsaas program Cash distribution (Figure 1) and has no interest in any other program, indicating Pakistanis’ interest in the Ehsaas Program.
Fig 1: Google Search Volume for the Keyword "Ehsaas program." Pakistanis are only concerned with the Ehsaas Cash Disbursement

Comparison of Ehsaas with other Social Security Programs

Western countries have established social protection institutions

  • Chronic poverty (UK)
  • Health, education (Australia)
  • Social Justice, Micro Insurance (Germany)
  • Jobs as the best social safety measure (World Bank).

The Pakistan Ehsaas program would better assist the needy if one of these areas was addressed, which is unanticipated health costs – the most catastrophic for the lowest portion of society.

Problems and Difficulties

If the goal of this ministry was to ease the suffering of the poorest sector, it would take a long time because the underlying issues are far more complicated and need significant political decisions to even begin moving in the right direction.

Causes of extreme poverty in Pakistan

The underlying cause of poverty in Pakistan is

  • Low financing for education and health, with Pakistan ranking 152 out of 189 nations in terms of HDI.
  • Inequitable support of non-development expenditures like defense, which accounts for more than 7% of GDP, compared to 2.3 percent for education.
  • A scarcity of assets and skills.
  • Political disempowerment of the general populace
  • Elite acquisition of power centers and property holdings
  • The uninterested and unaccountable political class
  • Unaccountable government employees
  • Lack of affordable justice
  • Regressive societal norms
  • Extractive institutions

These real reasons for chronic vulnerability among the poorest strata are beyond the scope of a social protection ministry or organization.

It is no surprise that the number of severely poor people in Pakistan has risen from 4.4 percent to 5 percent by 2020, a 2 million-person increase, according to the World Bank.

Conclusion

Although direct intervention is a good thing, Pakistan must undertake fundamental reforms in its political institutions to produce genuine leaders with the vision and aptitude to confront serious structural challenges and deliver outcomes that increase the well-being of the population — the primary goal of democracy.

For more on related topics, do visit Pakistan news.

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