Sindh’s infrastructure in a shambles
Things have not changed dramatically in Sindh as expected following transfer of additional resources under the 7th National Finance Commission Award. Large populations in the province continue to face pervasive poverty while the constitutional tenure of the PPP governments at the centre and Sindh has come to its fag end.
Even in the 150-kilometer radius around the largest city of Karachi, roads are dilapidated and major towns and Taluka headquarters present a situation of neglect that prevailed in Federally Administered Tribal Areas almost a decade ago.
Partly affected by repeated natural disasters, the 140-km stretch of roads from Qaidabad in Karachi to Keti Bundar remain uncarpeted while the Super Highway connecting Sindh’s two largest cities – Karachi and Hyderabad – is in equally bad shape.
Poor health and education infrastructure and lack of enabling conditions for livelihood pose a serious political threat to the country’s largest party now in power. And opponents among the nationalist ranks and regional parties like Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, although not in a position to change the status quo, seem ready to exploit the poor governance and negligible development activities. Pir Pagara’s comparison of infrastructure facilities between Punjab and Sindh appeals to the minds of many voters.
Most of the problems are rooted in inability of the government to invest in infrastructure development but more importantly because of limited or no focus at all even on the maintenance of infrastructure that was built decades earlier. In the absence of road network, none of the tens of small towns and Talukas from Karachi to Keti Bundar have even a single reasonable restaurant. Bazars are in poor conditions, dust blowing through the shops as the luxury imported vehicles like Land Cruisers and Pajeros pass by.
This is despite the fact that over Rs200 billion additional revenues, over and above traditional annual development plans, have over the last three years have flowed into the province that controls the country’s external trade through its ports and produces more than 67 per cent of the country’s gas resources. On top of that, its leadership now rules the country and faces almost no opposition in the province.
Given such resources, it is not difficult to improve the conditions of the people by integrating smaller cities into the mainstream and provide job and business opportunities at the gross roots level instead of burdening Karachi with every passing day. Uneven growth of Sindh cities may have contributed a lot to the situation but its responsibility lies with the poor planning, programme, and implementation.
While almost all the successive governments share the responsibility for such a state of affairs, a lot could have been changed by the incumbent leadership over the medium term since 7th NFC award in 2009 because they had surplus funds though limited absorption capacity. With about 18 million population in Karachi and 3.5 million in Hyderabad, none of the 10 major cities like Sukkur, Larkana, Nawabshad, Mirpurkhas, Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Dadu, Tando Adam, Khairpur and Tando Allahyar have touched one million population.
A baseline study of coastal areas of Badin and Thatta districts completed in November 2012 noted that over 79 per cent of the 1.2 million inhabitants of the two districts were living below the poverty line due to weakening of traditional land-based livelihoods on account of decrease in fish resources, sea intrusion and poor or non-existent infrastructure and grossly neglected social sector.
The survey, according to Muhammad Umar Memon of Sindh Coastal Community Development Project, was carried out with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank and was meant to document economic and social indicators on the ground before a major initiative with Rs500 billion could be launched to see what impact it would have on the conditions of the people. The survey generally covered 42 coastal union councils with 731 villages and 14 union councils were selected for in-depth analysis.
The study showed that the degraded lands shot up to 2.2 million acres in 159 dehs reducing crop production in the two coastal districts.
Droughts and disasters have had a devastating impact on fishing, livestock and other coastal livelihoods. Public forest resources in Badin were limited and irrigated plantations were poorly stocked with only 4.1 per cent area under the tree cover.
The mesquite (Devi) growth in Badin forest and rangelands was reportedly being cut and converted into coal for sale in local and Punjab markets. Riverine forests of Thatta division were also adversely affected by ever decreasing downsteam flows of freshwater from Kotri.
In 1990, about 160,000 hactares of dense mangroves thrived in the Indus Delta. By 2000, mangrove stands were reported merely on an area of 75,000 hactares. Fisheries in coastal region were doing very well until 1991 but then drought and destruction of breeding grounds and estuaries had caused significant reduction in fishing. The loss of fishing ground and use of harmful nets at the mouths of Indus and in the creek system had further degraded the resources and reduced the income of individual fishers.
The two districts were assessed to be highly suitable for aquaculture and mari-culture but the facilities were found to be missing altogether.
Water supply schemes provided by the Sindh government were available in four per cent of sample villages only. Hand pumps, whether sweet water or brackish, were the pre-dominant source of drinking water in coastal villages. Dug wells provided water in 11 per cent villages while ponds and lakes were available to 28 per cent sample villages. About seven per cent of communities in areas closer to creeks also bought water tankers or cans for drinking water.
Low values of Human Development Index were estimated in all coastal talukas. It was revealed that 55 per cent of the project area households were poor when the poverty headcount ration was estimated at the projected official poverty line for 2010-11. Using real time per capita income and assuming poverty line at $1 per capita per day, 77.3 per cent of sample households were rated as poor. Assuming poverty line at $1.25 per capita per day, the poverty headcount ration was estimated at 85 per cent.
Data suggested that only seven per cent women had primary education while only one per cent had passed middle school. About 72 per cent of respondents were married with average marriage of 17 years. More than 70 per cent of sample women were subjected to domestic violence mainly by their husbands while 85 per cent of child births were attended by local Dais (untrained). Infant mortality rate was reported at 46 per cent.
Besides natural disasters, lack of fishing equipment and finances, poor health and education facilities, non-availability of off-farm employment were some of the major causes of poverty. Non-availability of irrigation and quality inputs, lack of support services and unrealistic support prices were also quoted as some of the main issues of the coastal agriculture.