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Controversy over government poverty reduction estimate

[Pakistan] Street children are especially vulnerable to sexual violence
Street children are especially vulnerable to sexual violence (IRIN)

A leading economist has questioned the sampling procedures used to ascertain a 4 percent fall in nationwide poverty as claimed by the Pakistani government. "The sampling procedure [used for the survey] is fundamentally flawed," Dr Akmal Hussain, a Cambridge-educated economist, told IRIN from the eastern city of Lahore.

On Monday, in a front page analysis for the English-language broadsheet, Daily Times, titled "Poverty reduction figure is fudged", Hussain questioned the Pakistani finance minister's claim that the "percentage of population below the poverty line has declined by 4.2 percent compared to the year 2000", calling the claim "fudged".

"The minister's claim of poverty reduction is being made on the basis of a small sample survey of only about 5,000 households, selected without regard to provincial coverage and conducted for only one quarter, April to June this year, when earnings from wheat harvesting enable a larger consumption expenditure by the poor," he wrote, arguing that "the results of this small sample survey" were being compared to sample results in the base year drawn from the standard and periodic Pakistan Integrated Household Survey (PIHS).

"They cannot compare results from a larger sample survey four years ago, which was conducted on an annualised basis, with quarterly data," Hussain fumed. The specific differences in design of the two surveys are such that a reduction in poverty would tend to show from the differences in sample design rather than a change in the real magnitude of poverty," he added.

"In other words, because of the design of the two samples being so different, there is an inbuilt bias towards showing poverty reduction," Hussain said. World Bank estimates suggest at least 40 percent of the population of Pakistan live below the poverty line.

However, Dr Ashfaque Hassan Khan, the government's chief economist, told IRIN in the capital, Islamabad, that the government had not "claimed" that poverty had been reduced by the percentage points mentioned in the survey. "The government has not claimed any such thing," he stressed. "This is what the results show at the national level, that poverty has declined," he said.

The debate arose just days after Shaukat Aziz, the Pakistani finance minister, announced a national budget on Saturday, which he said would boost growth and create jobs for the poor, as it sets a GDP growth rate of 6.6 percent, up from the 6.4 percent in the financial year that ends on 30 June.

In a post-budget press conference on Sunday, Aziz also defended the figures of the sample survey showing a 4.2 percent reduction in poverty from last year, promising, though, that a more comprehensive survey would be conducted in July.

"This is an endless debate between scholars and, in a way, both the government and Hussain are right," Chaudhry Inayatullah, the chief of the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Sustainable Livelihoods programme, told IRIN in Islamabad. "The UN has no mechanism by which they can verify these figures," he added.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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