ISLAMABAD: The United Nations has placed Pakistan in the group of Asia-Pacific countries that spend the least on social protection, education and healthcare.
According to the ‘Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific 2018’ report published by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) on Tuesday, other countries in the group are Bangladesh, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal and Timor-Leste.
With the exception of Timor-Leste, it said, all other countries in the group spent around five per cent of their GDP on the three social sectors, which was below the regional average of nine per cent of GDP.
Most of these countries were also all low-income states, many of which had seen human and other resources depleted by conflicts and natural disasters. The main challenge for this country grouping, it noted, was to gather political will and public support for significantly boosting investments in people.
The report said that while the Asia- Pacific region had made considerable achievements in primary education — with primary school net enrolment rates above 90pc in almost every country — gross enrolment rates for secondary education varied widely, being as low as 45pc in Cambodia and Pakistan.
Developing countries in the Asia- Pacific region only spent about 3.7pc of GDP on social protection, compared to the world average of 11.2pc. This under-investment, the report noted, was the reason why 60pc of the population in the Asia-Pacific region had no protection if they fell ill, had a disability, and became unemployed, pregnant or old.
The report stated that overall the region needed additional investments of $281 billion per year to match the global spending levels as a share of GDP on the three social sectors. More than two thirds of the additional spending would need to be directed to social protection programmes alone, it added.
According to the report, about 1.2 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region still live on less than $3.20 a day. Out of the 1.2bn, 400 million are estimated to live in extreme poverty, below the threshold of $1.90 a day. Of these, almost two-thirds live in South Asia, particularly in India.
To accelerate progress towards ending poverty, governments needed to boost the amount of public spending on social protection, education and healthcare, the report said.
Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2018
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