More should be invested in technology, data to improve human capital services: Dr Sania Nishtar

Pakistan spends Rs260 billion to help poor segments of society under its Ehsaas programme

Dr Sania Nishtar said Ehsaas is about the creation of a ‘welfare state’ by leveraging 21st century tools such as using data and technology to create precision safety nets. — File photo
Dr Sania Nishtar said Ehsaas is about the creation of a ‘welfare state’ by leveraging 21st century tools such as using data and technology to create precision safety nets. — File photo

Muzaffar Rizvi

Published: Mon 17 Jan 2022, 3:02 PM

Last updated: Mon 17 Jan 2022, 3:10 PM

Dr Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation, highlighted Pakistan’s approach to human capital development at the Expo 2020 Dubai and said more should be invested in technology and data to improve delivery of human capital services.

While sharing her experience of Ehsaas programme at the mega event in Dubai, Dr Sania Nishtar said the government has allocated Rs260 billion for the Ehsaas programme in 2021-22.

“The budget for social protection has been doubled compared to any past government’s budget and 100 per cent budget utilised over the last three years. In addition, Rs120 billion have also been allocated for the targeted commodity subsidy programme, Ehsaas Rashan Riayat,” said Dr Sania Nishtar told Khaleej Times during an interview on the sidelines of Expo 2020 Dubai.

Creation of welfare state

Ehsaas is an umbrella social welfare programme for various disadvantaged groups of the society. There are 16 programmes in Ehsaas for 16 target groups.

“The programme regards social protection as one of the policy tools to address inequality. For Ehsaas, our government has increased the social protection spending alongside enhancement in scope and coverage of safety nets,” she said.

Dr Sania Nishtar said Ehsaas is about the creation of a ‘welfare state’ by leveraging 21st century tools such as using data and technology to create precision safety nets; promoting financial inclusion and access to digital services; supporting the economic empowerment of women; focusing on the central role of human capital formation for poverty eradication, economic growth, and sustainable development; and overcoming financial barriers to accessing health and education.

Focus on institutions governance

She said there is a strong focus on governance of institutions implementing safety net programmes. A new national socio-economic survey database has just been completed to enable precise targeting.

Ehsaas Kafaalat is ensuring financial and digital inclusion of eight million of the poorest women. The education conditional cash transfer programme ‘Ehsaas School Stipends’ has been expanded nationwide while the new health and nutrition programme ‘Ehsaas Nashonuma’ has been rolled out. Moreover, the shock-oriented safety net ‘Ehsaas Tahafuz’ is being upscaled nationwide. Additional resources have been allocated for the ‘National Poverty Graduation Initiative’ to set the poor on the path of prosperity, she added.

Helping vulnerable families

Since its launch on March 27, 2019 Ehsaas has touched lives of half the country’s population. Ehsaas Kafaalat, includes unconditional cash transfers and saving wallets for eight million poorest women.

“During Covid, 15 million families were supported which equates to 100 million people. This year eight million families are getting cash grants. Children in all classes, in every district, of all Ehsaas eligible families are eligible for Ehsaas School Stipends. Girls get a higher stipend amount compared to boys,” she said.

Dr Sania Nishtar said Ehsaas Undergraduate Scholarships granted 142,000 need-cum-merit-based scholarships in two years to students from low-income backgrounds; 80,000 Ehsaas interest-free loans are disbursed every month for sustainable income generation; Ehsaas Nashonuma opened 50 centres to tackle stunting among children under the age of two years through a mix of conditional cash transfers and specialised nutritious food.

Ehsaas Amdan (income) transfers small income generating assets to vulnerable families across 23 poorest districts for their poverty graduation.

One-window Ehsas

One Window Ehsaas, which consolidates all Ehsaas benefits and services in one space, is being upscaled nationwide.

To provide targeted commodity subsidy to 20 million low-income families Ehsaas Rashan Riayat has been introduced to benefit 53 per cent of the country’s population.

Pakistan’s first precision safety net, Ehsaas Tahafuz is being expanded countrywide to protect the poor patients from catastrophic health expenditures. Several other Ehsaas programmes are also running, including Ehsaas Langars (soup kitchens), Ehsaas Panagahs (shelter homes) and Ehsaas Koye Bhooka Na Soye (truck kitchens).

To a question, she said the selection of beneficiaries in all these programmes is through data which comes from the 2021 digital national socioeconomic registry which has data on 34 million families.

“We harness partnerships with both private sector and various levels of government and embed delivery in a culture of transparency and evidence-based decision making,” said Dr Sania Nishtar.


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