On 14th August Pakistan celebrated 75 years of Independence. As is traditional, there were many ecstatic displays of patriotism, both from the Government and the general public – and also in most of the Christian schools we support. There is much to celebrate, not least the dignity of identity and freedom from oppression. Such events are an important affirmation of the hopes and dreams of Pakistan’s founder:
You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.
But perhaps for many citizens these celebrations carried a heavy pall of concern for the future, and especially for the poor in Pakistan. Seventy-five years ago when Pakistan gained her independence from British colonial rule, the population was 33 million. Today it is about 225 million – and that is after 75 years of unstable government, economic uncertainty and social unrest. Poverty in Pakistan has never been so high.
Here are the bare statistics: “Poverty in Pakistan has been recorded by the World Bank at 39.3% using the lower middle-income poverty rate of US$3.2 (£2.70) per day, and 78.4% using the upper middle-income poverty rate of US$5.5 (£4.65) per day.”
Reality behind the statistics
In Starfish Asia we carry a concern for everyone, whether they be Muslims, Hindus or Christians. But our main focus is on Pakistan’s poorest Christians, a minority community that comes from the very poorest levels of society. Pakistan’s former Prime Minister once said: “Pakistan is not a poor country. It is just poorly managed.” It may not be a poor country, but sadly many millions are truly poor, and many of them are Christians.
What does it mean for real people in everyday life – the reality facing about 3million Christians who live either in villages or in city slums? It means life at a very basic level –a struggle for survival for the majority who live from day to day.
Poor families have little control over the number of children they bear – poorer families tend to be larger in spite of the high infant mortality rate (57 per thousand in 2022). The average Pakistani family has five children, which means 7 mouths to feed every day. And food is expensive, so rice and lentils twice a day may have to suffice. No money for fruit, and meat or vegetables only on rare or special occasions.
It means no luxuries like holidays, birthday parties or a night out at a restaurant. It means no bank account or promise of a retirement pension. It means they cannot repair the roof if it leaks – and most likely their electricity has been cut off because they cannot pay the bill. That means no fans when the summer heat hits 40 degrees. It means no access to clean water –and no access to good medical care when they fall ill. It probably means an early death for many.
It also means their children can probably not go to school because they cannot afford the fees, the uniform or books – and are afraid to goto the Government school where they may be treated as minority outcasts. Bear in mind that half of Pakistan is under the age of 23. It is a young country.
In the West we are afraid when inflation reaches 10% — even though we have free medical care, education and a pension, not to mention food banks and social care. But what would we do if we had no such facilities and inflation reached 25%, which it did in July 2022 in Pakistan? “Pakistan is in political and economic chaos,” said the Financial Times in May.
The annual inflation rate in Pakistan increased to 24.9% in July 2022 amid a slide in the Rupee to fresh record lows. Transport prices recorded the biggest increase (64.7%), namely motor fuels (94.4%); followed by food and drink (28.8%), mainly vegetables (40.5%), pulses (92.4%), cooking oil (72.6%), wheat (45%) and milk (24.8%); and housing and utilities (21.8%), namely electricity charges (86.7%).The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, August 2022
This is a catastrophe by any standards, but even more so for Pakistan’s poor, many of whom are the Christians that Starfish Asia exists to support. And that is why Starfish Asia exists, to give hope and opportunity to the poor in Pakistan, who will not only be tomorrow’s church, but also Pakistan’s proud citizens.
Mike WakelyStarfish Asia 1200 627
25 August 2022
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