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New Social Compact

Pakistan’s approach to fighting against COVID-19 may be utilized as guidelines

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According to the latest Data by Worldometer on 30 October, there ae total number of Covid -19 cases reached up to 246,743,439, the total number of death toll reached: 5,004,370, however number of record is: 223,529,314. The US is the worst-hit country with the number of cases: 8,979,236, and a death toll of 140,392. India is the second-largest worst-hit country with the number of COVID-19 cases: 8,432,546 and a death toll of 236,220. Whereas Brazil is in third place with the number of cases: 21,793,401, and the death toll of 607,504.

Pakistan stands at 33rd position with the number of Corona Cases: 1,271,687, and the death toll of 28,431. Pakistan is a developing country, and passing through the worst economic crisis, but, the visionary leadership of Pakistan, opted for an innovative strategy to overcome the Coronavirus, with a smart approach. As a result, the COVOD-19 has almost come under control, with the ratio of new cases dropping to almost 1.4 percent for quite some time.

Pakistan has been focused on managing the repeated COVID-19 infection waves, implementing a mass vaccination campaign, expanding its cash transfer program, and providing accommodative monetary conditions to sustain economic growth. Grappling with the fourth COVID-19 wave, the Government, as before, implemented micro-lockdowns that successfully limited the infection spread, while permitting economic activity to continue and thereby mitigating the economic fallout. While they have been accelerating, vaccination rates remain low. As of end-September 2021, only around 12 percent of the total population has been fully vaccinated.

The 39-month IMF-Extended Fund Facility (IMF-EFF) is likely to resume in FY22 with the 6th Review mission expected in October 2021. Key reforms supported by the EFF include domestic revenue mobilization, the reduction of power sector arrears, electricity subsidy reform, and more central bank operational autonomy, all of which are expected to strengthen long-term growth.

Due to low-base effects and recovering domestic demand, real GDP growth (at factor cost) is estimated to have rebounded to 3.5 percent in FY21 from a contraction of 0.5 percent in FY20. Buttressed with record-high official remittance inflows, received through formal banking channels, and an accommodative monetary policy, private consumption, and investment are both estimated to have strengthened during the FY. Government consumption is also estimated to have risen, but at a slower pace than in FY20 when the COVID-19 fiscal stimulus package was rolled out. In contrast, net exports are estimated to have contracted in FY21, as imports growth almost doubled that of exports due to strong domestic demand. On the production side, supported by strong large-scale manufacturing, industrial activity is projected to have rebounded after contracting for two consecutive years. Similarly, the services sector that accounts for 60 percent of GDP, is estimated to have expanded, as generalized lockdown measures were increasingly lifted. In contrast, agriculture sector growth is expected to have slowed, partly due to a near 30 percent decline in cotton production on account of adverse weather conditions.

Despite slowing to 8.9 percent in FY21 from 10.7 percent in FY20, headline consumer price inflation remained elevated – mostly because of high food inflation, which is likely to disproportionately impact poorer households that spend a larger share of their income on food items compared to non-food items. With the policy rate being held at 7.0 percent throughout FY21, real interest rates were negative, supporting the recovery.

The current account deficit narrowed from 1.7 percent of GDP in FY20 to 0.6 percent in FY21 as robust remittance inflows offset a wider trade deficit. Foreign direct investment decreased, while portfolio inflows increased with the issuance of US$2.5 billion Eurobonds. Overall, the balance of payments surplus was 1.9 percent of GDP in FY21, and the official foreign exchange reserves rose to US$18.7 billion at end-FY21, the highest since January 2017 and equivalent to 3.4 months of total imports. Accordingly, the Rupee appreciated by 5.8 percent against the U.S. dollar over the FY, while the real effective exchange rate rose by 10.4 percent.

In FY21, the fiscal deficit narrowed to 7.2 percent of GDP from 8.0 percent in FY20, as revenue growth, underpinned by stronger domestic activity, outpaced higher expenditures. Public debt, including guaranteed debt, ticked down to 90.7 percent of GDP at end-June FY21 from 92.7 percent of GDP at end-June FY20.

Bolstered by the recovery in the industry and services sectors and resultant off-farm employment opportunities, poverty incidence, measured at the international poverty line of $1.90 PPP 2011 per day, is expected to have declined to 4.8 percent in FY21 from 5.3 percent in FY20. However, this change is not statistically significant, and downside risks arising from lockdown-induced disruptions to employment and high food inflation remain.

In line with the 25-basis point policy rate hike in September 2021, fiscal and monetary tightening are expected to resume in FY22, as the Government refocuses on mitigating emerging external pressures and managing long-standing fiscal challenges. Output growth is therefore projected to ease to 3.4 percent in FY22 but strengthens thereafter to 4.0 percent in FY23 with the implementation of key structural reforms, particularly those aimed at sustaining macroeconomic stability, increasing competitiveness, and improving the financial viability of the energy sector.

Inflation is projected to edge up in FY22 with expected domestic energy tariff hikes and higher oil and commodity prices before moderating in FY23. Poverty is expected to continue declining, reaching 4.0 percent by FY23. The current account deficit is projected to widen to 2.5 percent of GDP in FY23 as imports expand with higher economic growth and oil prices. Exports are also expected to grow strongly after initially tapering in FY22, as tariff reform measures gain traction supporting export competitiveness. In addition, the growth of official remittance inflows is expected to moderate after benefiting from a COVID-19 induced transition to formal channels in FY21.

Despite fiscal consolidation efforts, the deficit is projected to remain high at 7.0 percent of GDP in FY22 and widen to 7.1 percent in FY23 due to pre-election spending. Implementation of critical revenue-enhancing reforms, particularly the General Sales Tax harmonization, will support a narrowing of the fiscal deficit over time. Public debt will remain elevated in the medium-term, as well Pakistan’s exposure to debt-related shocks. This outlook assumes that the IMF-EFF program will remain on track.

Major downside risks include delays and stalling of the IMF-EFF program and the consequent external financing difficulties, exceedingly high domestic demand leading to unsustainable external pressures, more contagious COVID-19 strains requiring widespread lockdowns, and a worsening of regional and domestic security conditions, including those stemming from the Afghanistan situation. All these could delay critical structural reforms.

World Bank estimate. The Government’s preliminary growth estimate for FY21 is 3.9 percent. Pakistan’s performance is admired and may be utilized as guidelines for many other developing nations.  

Prof. Engr. Zamir Ahmed Awan, Sinologist (ex-Diplomat), Non-Resident Fellow of CCG (Center for China and Globalization), National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad, Pakistan.

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New Social Compact

Partnering with persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world

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As the world observes the International Day of Persons with Disabilities today, we honour the leadership of persons with disabilities and their tireless efforts to build a more inclusive, accessible and sustainable world. At the same time, we resolve to work harder to ensure a society that is open and accommodating of all.

An estimated 690 million persons with disabilities, around 15 per cent of the total population, live in the Asia-Pacific region. Many of them continue to be excluded from socio-economic and political participation. Available data suggests that persons with disabilities are almost half as likely to be employed as persons without disabilities. They are also half as likely to have voted in an election and are underrepresented in government decision-making bodies.  Just about 0.5 per cent of parliamentarians in the region are persons with disabilities. Women with disabilities are even less likely to be employed and hold only 0.1 per cent of national parliament positions.

One of the main reasons behind these exclusions is a lack of accessibility. Public transportation and the built environment in general — including public offices, polling stations, workplaces, markets and other essential structures — lack ramps, walkways and basic accessibility features. Accessibility, however, goes beyond the commonly thought of physical structures. Barriers to access to services and information and communication technology must also be removed, to allow for the participation of persons with diverse types of disabilities, including persons with intellectual disabilities and hearing and vision impairments.

The COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns has exacerbated existing inequalities. Many persons with disabilities face increased health concerns due to comorbidities and were left without access to their personal assistants and essential goods and services. As much of society moved online during lockdowns, inaccessible digital infrastructure meant persons with disabilities could not access public health information or online employment opportunities.

Despite these challenges, persons with disabilities and their organizations were among the first to respond to the immediate needs of their communities for food and supplies during lockdowns in addition to continuing their long-term work to support vulnerable groups.

ESCAP partnered with several of these organizations to support their work during the pandemic. Samarthyam, a civil society organization in India led by a woman with disabilities, has trained many men and women with disabilities to conduct accessibility audits in their home districts. With these skills, they are becoming leaders and advocates in their communities, working towards improving the accessibility of essential buildings everywhere.

Another ESCAP partner, the National Council for the Blind of Malaysia (NCBM), is working to improve digital accessibility by training a group with diverse disabilities in web access auditing, accessible e-publishing and strategic advocacy. NCBM hopes to support participants in forming a social enterprise for web auditing and accessible publishing, creating employment opportunities and enabling persons with disabilities to lead efforts to improve online accessibility.

Women and men with disabilities have been leaders and champions to break barriers to make a difference in Asia and the Pacific. Today, ESCAP launches the report “Disability at a Glance 2021: The Shaping of Disability-inclusive Employment in Asia and the Pacific.” The report highlights some innovative approaches to making employment more inclusive, as well as recommendations on how to further reduce employment gaps. 

Adjusting to a post-COVID-19 world presents an opportunity for governments to reassess and implement policies to increase the inclusion of persons with disabilities in employment, decision making bodies and all aspects of society. Accessibility issues impact not only persons with disabilities but also other people in need of assistance, including older persons, pregnant women or those with injuries. Implementing policies with universal design, which creates environments and services that are useable by all people, benefits the whole of society. Governments should mainstream universal design principles into national development plans, not only in disability-specific laws and policies.   

As a global leader in disability-inclusive development for over 30 years, the Asia-Pacific region has set an example by adopting the world’s first set of disability-specific development goals in the Incheon Strategy to “Make the Right Real.” Meeting the Incheon Strategy goals will require governments to intensify their efforts to reduce barriers to education, employment and political participation.

At ESCAP, we know that achieving an inclusive and sustainable post-COVID-19 world will only be possible with increased leadership and participation of persons with disabilities. To build back better — and fairer — we will continue to strengthen partnerships with all stakeholders so together we can “Make the Right Real” for all persons with disabilities.

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New Social Compact

Remote Learning during the pandemic: Lessons from today, principles for tomorrow 

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Education systems around the world reacted to COVID-19 by closing schools and rolling out remote learning options for their students as an emergency response.  New World Bank analysis of early evidence reveals that while remote learning has not been equally effective everywhere, hybrid learning is here to stay.

Going forward, for remote learning to deliver on its potential, the analysis shows the need to ensure strong alignment between three complementary components: effective teaching, suitable technology, and engaged learners.

“Hybrid learning – which combines in-person and remote learning – is here to stay. The challenge will be the art of combining technology and the human factor to make hybrid learning a tool to expand access to quality education for all,” emphasized Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education.  “Information technology is only a complement, not a substitute, for the conventional teaching process – particularly among preschool and elementary school students. The importance of teachers, and the recognition of education as essentially a human interaction endeavor, is now even clearer.”

The twin reports, Remote Learning During the Global School Lockdown: Multi-Country Lessons and Remote Learning During COVID-19: Lessons from Today, Principles for Tomorrow, stress that three components are critical for remote learning to be effective:

  • Prioritizing effective teachers: a teacher with high subject content knowledge, skills to use technology, and appropriate pedagogical tools and support is more likely to be effective at remote instruction.
  • Adopting suitable technology: availability of technology is a necessary but not sufficient condition for effective remote learning.
  • Ensuring learners are engaged: for students to be engaged, contextual factors such as the home environment, family support, and motivation for learning must be well aligned.

The reports found that many countries struggled to ensure take-up and some even found themselves in a remote learning paradox: choosing a distance learning approach unsuited to the access and capabilities of a majority of their teachers and students.

“Emerging evidence on the effectiveness of remote learning during COVID-19 is mixed at best,” said Cristóbal Cobo, World Bank Senior Education and Technology Specialist, and co-author of the two reports. “Some countries provided online digital learning solutions, although a majority of students lacked digital devices or connectivity, thus resulting in uneven participation, which further exacerbated existing inequalities. Other factors leading to low student take-up are unconducive home environments; challenges in maintaining children’s engagement, especially that of younger children; and low digital literacy of students, teachers, and/or parents.”

“While pre-pandemic access to technology and capabilities to use it differed widely within and across countries, limited parental engagement and support for children from poor families has generally hindered their ability to benefit from remote learning,” stressed Saavedra.

Despite these challenges with remote learning, this can be an unprecedented opportunity to leverage its potential to reimagine learning and to build back more effective and equitable education systems. Hybrid learning is part of the solution for the future to make the education process more effective and resilient. 

The reports offer the following five principles to guide country efforts going forward:

Ensure remote learning is fit-for-purpose. Countries should choose modes of remote learning that are suitable to the access and utilization of technology among both teachers and students, including digital skills, and that teachers have opportunities to develop the technical and pedagogical competencies needed for effective remote teaching. 

Use technology to enhance the effectiveness of teachers. Teacher professional development should develop the skills and support needed to be an effective teacher in a remote setting.

Establish meaningful two-way interactions. Using the most appropriate technology for the local context, it is imperative to enable opportunities for students and teachers to interact with each other with suitable adaptations to the delivery of the curriculum.

Engage and support parents as partners in the teaching and learning process. It is imperative that parents (families) are engaged and supported to help students access remote learning and to ensure both continuity of learning and protect children’s socioemotional well-being.

Rally all actors to cooperate around learning. Cooperation across all levels of government; as well as partnerships between the public and private sector, and between groups of teachers and school principals; is vital to the effectiveness of remote learning and to ensure that the system continues to adapt, learn, and improve in an ever-changing remote learning landscape.

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Youth embody ‘spirit’ of 21st century more than parents

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Even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and other global challenges, children and youth are nearly 50 per cent more likely than older people to believe that the world is becoming a better place, according to the results of a landmark intergenerational poll published on Thursday. 

The international survey was conducted by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Gallup, the global analytics and advice firm, and has been released ahead of World Children’s Day on 20 November. 

The Changing Childhood Project is the first poll of its kind to ask multiple generations for their views on the world and what it is like to be a child today.  

Part of the solution 

Henrietta Fore, the UNICEF Executive Director, said that despite numerous reasons to be pessimistic, children and young people refuse to see the world through the bleak lens of adults. 

“Compared to older generations, the world’s young people remain hopeful, much more globally minded, and determined to make the world a better place,” she added.  

“Today’s young people have concerns for the future but see themselves as part of the solution”. 

More than 21,000 people in 21 countries participated in the survey, which was conducted across two age cohorts – 15-24 years old, and age 40 and up – and during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hopeful, not naïve 

Nationally representative surveys were undertaken in countries across all regions – Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America – and income levels.  

 The findings revealed young people are also more likely to believe childhood has improved, and that healthcare, education and physical safety are better today when compared with their parents’ generation. 

However, despite their optimism, youth are far from naïve.  The poll showed they want to see action to address the climate emergency.  At the same time, they are skeptical about the information they consume on social media, and struggle with feelings of depression and anxiety.  

This generation is also more likely to see themselves as global citizens, and they are more willing to embrace international cooperation to combat threats such as the pandemic. 

Aware of risks 

The survey also found children and young people are generally more trusting of national governments, scientists and international news media as sources of accurate information.  

They are also aware of the problems the world is facing, with nearly 80 per cent seeing serious risks for children online, such as exposure to violent or sexually explicit content, or being bullied. 

Young people want faster progress in the fight against discrimination, more cooperation among countries, and for decision-makers to listen to them. 

Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed who are aware of climate change believe Governments should take significant action to address it.  The share rises to 83 per cent in low- and lower-middle countries, where climate impacts are set to be greatest. 

21st century citizens 

In practically every country, large majorities of youth said their countries would be safer from COVID-19 and other threats if Governments would work together, rather than on their own. 

They have also demonstrated stronger support for LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) rights, with young women at the forefront for equality. 

The survey also revealed a strong alignment between the two generations, including on the issues of climate, education, global collaboration, though some of the deepest divides occurred around optimism, global mindedness and recognition of historical progress.   

“While this research paints a nuanced view of the generational divide, a clear picture emerges: Children and young people embody the spirit of the 21st century far more readily than their parents,” said Ms. Fore.  

“As UNICEF prepares to mark its 75th anniversary next month, and ahead of World Children’s Day, it is critical we listen to young people directly about their well-being and how their lives are changing”.

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