ISLAMABAD    -   The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $200 million loan as additional financing to help support the government of Pakistan’s flagship social protection programme, the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

The BISP supported more than 5 million eligible families across the country through over $3.6 billion in total cash transfers disbursed so far. The incumbent government had brought the BISP programme under the umbrella of ‘Ehsaas Programme’ which was launched by Prime Minister Imran Khan in March this year. The objectives of Ehsaas programme are reducing inequality, investing in human resource, and to lift lagging districts.

According to the ADB, the BISP, considered one of the largest social protection programs in South Asia, is part of a larger government strategy, called Ehsaas, to reduce poverty and inequality. BISP, which is primarily funded by the government of Pakistan, supports Ehsaas through cash transfers, poverty graduation programs, and a targeted social safety net.

The ADB-financed Social Protection Development Project, approved in October 2013, has enabled the enrollment of over 855,000 women beneficiaries to BISP, or about 15% of the eligible beneficiaries. The $200 million additional financing for this project will continue to support cash transfers as well as help BISP implement institutional strengthening measures.

“Social protection programs like the BISP are crucial to ensure that the poorest segments of the population do not go further into poverty, especially at a time when the country is facing difficult macroeconomic challenges,” said the Director of Public Management, Financial Sector, and Trade for ADB’s Central and West Asia Department Tariq Niazi. “We are also committed to helping the government of Pakistan implement alternative modalities for social protection and poverty reduction such as asset transfer programs that promote improved human capital and reduce intergenerational poverty.”

“ADB’s additional financing will support further institutional strengthening and improvements in financial management and controls in BISP. A policy research unit will also be established within BISP to help monitor and improve the performance of ongoing programs and design new cost-effective and evidence-based initiatives such as poverty graduation programs and conditional cash transfers for health and nutrition in line with global best practices,” said ADB Country Director for Pakistan Ms. Xiaohong Yang.

ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. In 2018, it made commitments of new loans and grants amounting to $21.6 billion. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.

It is worth mentioning here that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had recently pledged to provide Pakistan with an amount of $200 million for the implementation of the ‘Ehsaas Programme’ in the country next year. Pakistan and the Gates Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) during a meeting in New York supporting the government’s initiative in alleviating poverty from the country.