Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2706

Poverty in South Asia: Issues and Suggestions

FarzanaBy Farzana Shah

South Asia is facing many challenges due to diverse political situation at regional level, still the region as a whole shares a lot of socio-economic problems in common and poverty is one of these. Poverty is a daunting challenge for countries in the region in particular Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

South Asia currently hosts more than half of the poor in the world. Despite many poverty alleviation and aid programs by international donors the situation is not improving as it was stipulated few decades back particularly in big countries in the region like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Poverty in South Asia has reduced considerably during last decade, thanks to private public efforts in shape of many programs but still more than one billion people in South Asia are living on less than two dollars per day, [1] although this trend is declining in the region according to World Bank along with major improvement predicted in other social indicators as well [2].

To fully understand the issue of poverty in South Asia, it is imperative to investigate social trends prevailing in the region and their impact on each area.

Poverty trends in South Asia follows arbitrary pattern at national level. Different provinces and states within a country have also gone through different poverty trends like poverty in India is more visible in some Eastern and South Eastern states while in Pakistan poverty is more concentrated in South Western and Northern areas and this inconsistent poverty in large countries in the region has resulted in some serious planning issues.

If someone wants to summarize poverty related issues in South Asia in a single word it would be ‘Disconnect’. There is a clear disconnect at every level be it planning, implementation or execution. Major disconnect has been seen in identifying socio-economic problems in context of local needs and this is the result of relying on old methods of information gathering. No centralized data repository was build so that data about major social factors, like number of unemployed people, literacy rate, infrastructure provision, health facilities, access to market, access to finance for small businesses etc. can be collected at central place. Absence of this data bid policies based on mere estimates and calculations based on these estimates.

Many programs in various countries in South Asia were failed, or were just partially successful due to gauche approach towards IT based systems.

Inadequate data leads to defective policy planning. Policy makers often don’t have correct inputs about exact situation on ground in a particular area regarding poverty level, basic needs, supply and demands situation, market access, literacy rate and other factors aforementioned. For example one district in a country suffers poverty due to lack of infrastructure adjacent one faces same problem due to lack of business acumen in local people and a third one has plunged into poverty due to absence of investment and finances.

Any policy made without keeping exact needs and situation in consideration will result in only partial success or rather complete failure as it always becomes difficult to rectify errors afterwards in most of socio-economic programs due to various factors like limited resources, stipulated time limit and managerial hazards of being planned again and again.

Ad-hoc approach in policies is another bottleneck in poverty reduction programs; People don’t need extemporised solutions like National Rural Employment Scheme (India) or President Rozgar Scheme (Pakistan). These schemes are inconsistent in their approach and only offer rough and ready solution to a permanent problem.

Apart from that there are financial issues related to this strategy as well like how long governments will continue these schemes? How government will make sure expanding footprint of these programs to areas to keep up with increasing population? Would these programs be able to control or limit unemployment due to current global economic meltdown?

Provision of necessary infrastructure is another challenge for region. According to latest estimates South Asia needs $ 25 billion every year for its infrastructure development to sustain growth. Apart from that absence of proper infrastructure has proved to be an implementation hazard in economic policies as well. Inadequate infrastructure is hindering foreign investment as well current energy crisis in Pakistan has exhibited this fact, sweeping floods in Monsoon season in India and Bangladesh also proved the absence of necessary infrastructure which is essential to sustain economic growth.

Human development is another area of concern for governments in the South Asia. No poverty alleviation program in South Asia can be successful until adopting a realistic approach to convert vast unskilled and semiskilled workers into a potent skilled workforce who can handle new and emerging technologies and trends in business and agriculture.

Apart from education, quality of education has remained a major problem in South Asia. There is a clear lack of infrastructure for vocational training and business training infrastructure. This resulted in vast number of unskilled workers who can’t do any small scale business on their own to generate any income.

Resource disparity among all the provinces and states is another issue in South Asia. Central governments in national capitals often intervene to distribute assets among states and provinces under a standardised manner. Provinces have a loose or no control over their natural resources in South Asia.

Poverty in South Asia has no short term solution as there are number of steps that governments must consider apart from what they are already doing in war against poverty.

First and far most is to eliminate aforementioned ‘Disconnect’ by implementing well contemplated automation and advanced data collection and analysis mechanisms. Data driven decision support systems, database management systems, performance evolution systems and other IT based governance systems have proved more than handy in accurate data analysis for various social factors in developed countries.

After collecting this data cohesive policies can be formed at macro meso and micro level to make realistic programs for sustaining growth and alleviating poverty from South Asia. Above mentioned data can be further used to analyse

40 to 60 percent of population in South Asia is directly connected to agriculture but growth in population has threatened rural South Asia to dip in poverty until an out of box solution presented. Non-farm businesses in rural areas have emerged as source of income in rural areas recently.

Non-farm sector is a neglected area in South Asia by policy makers to encourage entrepreneurs, investor and social activist except some limited areas in India, Where rural non-farm sector grew from 16.6% in 1977-78 to 23.8% in 2000[3].

Non-farm sector can offer tremendous durable employment opportunities to masses, particularly to semi-skilled and non-skilled, provided a comprehensive policy work has been done at government level to create a conducive environment and to develop enabling infrastructure in this regard. Non-farm sector is crucial for South Asia to maintain social parity in progress as well. Skilled people fleeing into urban centers and towns have created management issue for over decades now as a result there is a great deal of disparity in skilled manpower in villages and rural areas.

Instead of a wage based schemes at national level, targeted small business schemes for individuals and communities can be proved more beneficial. SWOT analysis of skill set in a community, historical data about businesses in region, existing industries and their growth, availability of necessary infrastructure and aptitude studies can provide very handy data to planners and thinkers in official circles.

South Asian governments will have to take challenge of human development head on. Currently illiteracy has decreased in all countries in the region but still level of skillfulness of huge pool of human resource is far from that developed countries have adopted in their industrial complexes, agriculture farms and business entrepreneurship. A regional approach can play vital role in this regard. Countries can learn from each other by sharing experiences in areas like agriculture, non-farm based income programs, credit finance programs and infrastructure development etc.

Community participation play pivotal role in poverty alleviation and there are some success stories in South Asia in this regard. It is time when national governments come forward and invite local communities to help in planning and implementation of poverty alleviation and income generation programs. Local community can provide exact and accurate data about social indicators of a particular locality that can be used in planning of any future programs envisage eradicating poverty while government can train local personnel for implementing those programs in implementation phase.

Policies of devolution of power are needed in order to make provinces and states more autonomous financially. Provinces must grant resources and powers to grassroots level (to districts) so that local administration units can take initiative at lowest level in a targeted approach to eradicate poverty but that must be part of a cohesive policy devised at center so that central government can intervene in case any such program goes off the target.


[1] “Poverty around the World” – A dollar a day,

[2] “Regional and Country Indicators”, World Bank , 2008

[3] “Opportunities in rural non-farm sector”, daily The Hindu, Tuesday, Dec 28, 2004

- Asian Tribune -

Share this