Pakistan responded to pandemic wisely in terms of health & economy: Shibli Faraz

Senator Shibli Faraz, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, has said that despite the adverse impact of COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan has made it possible to rank Pakistan among those who have responded to the pandemic wisely and successfully while looking at the health and livelihood of the people and economy of the country as a top priority.

He was speaking at the concluding plenary of 23rd Sustainable Development Conference held by Sustainable Development Policy Institute here on Thursday.

Quoting the words of Charles Dickens that “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” the minister said, the time of COVID-19 is a very challenging time not only for Pakistan but for the whole world, but the actual challenge is to convince people to follow SOPs effectively.

Special programmes have been launched to provide jobs to the labour and daily wagers during this tough time to let them meet their livelihood, he said.

Malik Amin Aslam, the PM‘s Advisor on Climate Change, stressed the need to rebalance our act with nature else the nature will react in the way it reacted in the form of COVID. All the tension and damage pandemic has caused, he said, a very positive thing about Pakistan is that our economy is the least contracted in the world. Moreover, our country is saved in all the three dimensions including health, economy, and food security.

Looking into the overall situation of Pakistan through this conference, our country is still doing much better than many other European countries. There is still the need to make effective policies and improve the previous one by looking into the post COIVD world needs.

SDPI Board of Governors chairperson Shafqat Kakakhel, in his welcome address, thanked the minister, development partners and audience to participate in the conference.

SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri presented recommendations of the conference and urged the minister to consider them in policy making.

SDPI Joint Executive Director Dr Vaqar Ahmed presented vote of thanks and appreciated the team SDPI for organizing such a big virtual conference.

Speaking at a session titled:The Role of Science and Technology in the Times of COVID-19, Ch Fawad Hussain, Federal Minister for Science and Technology, said that the government has three top priorities, i. e. agriculture, electronics and manufacturing of electric vehicles. He added that the emergence of technology has affected all the areas of traditional economy. This is fourth generation industrial revolution, where ideas have taken over labour and capital, the minister said, adding that advanced countries kept parallel both the civil and defense engineering advancement. He was of the view that investment-based health sector should be promoted and private partners should be encouraged to invest as it has huge potential. The minister further said that he has been a great advocate of privatization and wants that government should limit itself only to regulation. In response to a question related to interdepartmental coordination and consensus on these areas, the ministers said the prime minister has clustered all the ministries concerned to align their work for smooth working. He said that we must promote local partnerships, especially in manufacturing solar panels and batteries with China.  To a question about synchronizing academia with industries, the minister said, at least 40 universities have been tasked to adopt schools for Stem Education.

Speaking at a session titled:COVID-19 related Evidence in Policymaking: Perspective from Development Partners,  Ms Wendy Gilmour, Canadian High Commissioner in Islamabad, said the donor community intervention should be evidence based despite the fact that data collection itself is a challenging job. She also launched the National Population Analysis, which highlighted the inequalities existing in the system. We need the baseline data in decision-making, she said, adding that support will be provided to Pakistan and developmental partners. CSOs are challenged by the registration process and they face a lot in collecting data, she said.

Richard Ough from FCDO said COVID-19 has led to global implications, especially in Pakistan.  The evolution during the pandemic has to led to new evidence, which is the new normal. He said many businesses were closed during the pandemic, 54% companies used digitization, 20% invested on digital platforms.

Michael Nehrbass from USAID, Pakistan said the world businesses are going to close, and children are out of school. He said USAID is helping private sector in developing digital business.  Umer Akhlaq Malik from UNDP said the readily available data is not easily accessible. Unfortunately, to address the socioeconomic response plan, we don’t have national data collection plan. He stressed the need for quick transformation for data collection.

Speaking at a session titled:Access to water and sanitation in a post-COVID Pakistan, Kanwal Shauzab, Parliamentary Secretary Planning Development & Special Initiatives, highlighted the worsening state of water and sanitation in urban and rural areas and stressed the need to address water shortage during the pandemic when handwashing has become such necessity.

Niaz Ahmed from WaterAid, Islamabad said that only 7% of wastewater is treated while rest is discharged to safe water without treatment. This has grave consequences for the environment and the water supplies. Highlighting the need to improve coordination between institutions working in this domain, he said the role of civil society in facilitating governmental initiatives is very crucial in meeting the requirements of SDG-6.  

Mr Basharat Saeed, Water Resources Specialist, World Bank, Islamabad, highlighted the fact that a significant percentage of Pakistani youth is stunted. Hence a holistic approach was required in terms of addressing the long-neglected issue of water and sanitation.

The session on‘State of Social Protection in Pakistan: Need, Coverage, Legislative Status, Challenges and Way Forward’was moderated by Dr Safdar Sohail, Executive Director SPRC. Mr. Mutee ul Rehman, Senior Specialist, SPRC, launched the special protection report that ranked districts combining the measurements of social assistance, social insurance & social security. Dr. Aliya Hashmi Khan discussed different definitions of Social Protection discussed in the report and emphasized to focus on one concept of social protection.Dr. Stephen Kidd evaluated the Ongoing Social Protection Policies and Programmes in the Context of SDG 1.3 and also gave appreciating comments on the launch of the SPRC report.

Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram concluded the session by elaborating social policy for developing countries for future. He emphasized that structural reforms are a must for every state but what kind of structural reforms are to be introduced is the question.

Speaking at a session titled:A New Outlook and Emerging Needs of Education Systems for Addressing Impacts and Challenges of Coronavirus Era,Dr M. Irfan Khan from IIUI said that online education is much important but students are not taking it as serious as it should be.

Dr. Mahmood A. Khwaja from SDPI said education is a fundamental human right. Online education seems the only option to keep life safe & alive as well as ignorance away, but since its adaption in early 2020, has been confronted with many multi-faceted challenges for all stakeholders at all education levels from lowest to the highest educational levels

Dr Mazhar Iqbal Zafar from QAU, Islamabad said that people who are in remote areas lack  such facilities like internet so their loss should also be considered.

Speaking at a session onGender-based violence and Pakistani transgender community in COVID-19 pandemic, Huma Chughtai from Federal Judicial Academy addressed the problems faced by transgenders in our society. They are being neglected at every level and their rights are always violated even in the presence of laws. She stressed the need to involve media in changing the mindset of the society, to reduce gender-based discrimination.

Aisha Mughal said that the culprits are not punished due to flaws in our legal system. She said transgenders have suffered a lot and no financial support is given to them by the government. 

Khadija Ali said that we need to adopt an attitude of critique to avoid loopholes in our legal system which is patriarchal and needs to be gender responsive. She said both females and transgenders face harassment and law does not benefit them due to its weak implementation.

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