On July 18, senior representatives of the “One UN” team and agencies in Pakistan unveiled the “United Nations Programme II” (OPII) for the next five years (2013-17), along with details for the Punjab province.

This was done in Lahore in a meeting with scores of stakeholders, including representatives of the Punjab government departments, universities and civil society organisations.

The previous programme titled “One UN Programme” was launched in the year 2009 for a span of four years. For The Nation’s readers here are the salient points of the “OPII”.

While the “vision” relates to support human development on the basis of national priorities and provide humanitarian assistance when necessary, the programming principles are listed as:

Human rights-based approach;

Gender equality;

Environmental sustainability;

Results-based management;

Capacity development.

Eighteen UN agencies will be involved in the programme, which will extend to nine administrative areas of Pakistan. There will be 20 outcome level results and 54 point output results. The amount required for this programme has been estimated at $1.87 billion. It will consist of six Strategic Priority Areas (SPAs). These are:

SPA 1: Vulnerable and marginalised populations have equitable access    to and use of quality services;

SPA 2: Inclusive economic growth through the development of sustainable livelihoods;

SPA 3: Increased national resilience to disasters, crises and external shocks;

SPA 4: Strengthened governance and social cohesion;

SPA 5: Gender equality and social justice; and

SPA 6: Food and nutrition security for the most vulnerable groups.

The six SPAs for Punjab too are spelt out. These are:

SPA 1: Social sector development vital for growth, slow progress on MDGs, social disparities, low social sector expenditure and UN comparative advantage of social development;

SPA 2: High level of poverty, energy crisis, lack of women’s development, poor economic development and UN comparative advantage of institutional development;

SPA 3: High vulnerability to climate change, frequent incidence of natural disasters, 2005 earthquake, 73,000 killed/3.4 million homeless/20 million affected in 2010 flood and 9.7 million affected in 2011 floods;

SPA 4: Governance deficit, rule of law/public security, civilian rule and decentralisation of opportunity and UN comparative advantage of working with devolved structures;

SPA 5: Fundamental inequalities and social exclusion, demand for resources to address inequalities, inequitable access to rights and resources and need of targeted actions for gender mainstreaming; and

SPA 6: Chronic and acute malnutrition, food insecurity, stagnation of nutrition indicators, slow progress on MDGs and added value of global knowledge and experience.

Aside from a very brief statement on lessons learnt from the programme, I, little was available about the character and achievements of the previous UN activities. It was only to be expected that highlights of the results of the previous programme were presented and some sort of cost-benefit assessment attempted. This, however, was not done.

This was, however, necessary, since it is important that Pakistanis know how money earmarked by the UN for their welfare and development of the country was actually used. It was all the more necessary in view of the known criticism of improper use of foreign funds provided to Pakistan and how fund-providing agencies usually, in various ways (including appointments of foreign consultants), take away a considerable part of the allocations. Further, Pakistanis do need to know as to what, indeed, was the net impact of the contributions received for the projects planned and executed.

On page 3 of the UN booklet distributed at the meeting, there is a statement that maintained: “There has been a decline in completion/survival to grade 5 during the past five years.” Also, that there was a negative trend in the girls’ survival rate to Grade 5. Further, that “there has been a significant increase in dropouts from schools during the last five years - the dropout rate was 63 percent among boys and 77 percent among girls.”

Considering other fairly authentic government and (ASER) statistics, these figures do not appear to be quite correct (I pointed out this at the meeting). The questions are: why this deterioration in a crucial field? Why was priority not given in the “UN Programme I” and special efforts not made to strengthen the primary school system?

Again, there is very little in the next programme about the urgency of spreading literacy in the country. Pakistan remains at the lowest rung of the international literacy ladder. About 60 million Pakistanis are, in this day and age, utterly illiterate.

The Global Monitoring Reports on Dakar EFA goals, year after year, have been signalling the imperative of speeding up efforts and scaling up programmes for the removal of illiteracy in Pakistan. The UN programme does refer to the use of “mobile phone technology for rural female literacy and non-formal education teachers” in the Punjab. While such an expensive and maverick approach may do some good, it at best is a drop in the bucket. Almost 40 million women in Pakistan today cannot read and write. The irony of it is that there exists a government-approved National Plan of Action for achieving the EFA targets. Only a fraction of the number of literacy centres planned for the province has been opened in the Punjab. The position in the other three provinces is much worse. Balochistan and Sindh have hardly any provincial government adult literacy centres.

It is unfortunate that we, on the one hand, see the Secretary General United Nations launching (late last year) a worldwide campaign for “Education First” to which brave Malala referred while delivering her historic address at the UN General Assembly on July 12 and, on the other, find that “One UN Programme” for Pakistan accords literacy a low priority. It is intriguing to find that education as such, per se, is not one of its six strategic priorities. It lies submerged in SPA I under the generalised title “Vulnerable and marginalised populations equitable access to and use of quality services”.

Even Malala’s spirited appeal has not evoked the realisation for accelerating the rapid spread of literacy in Pakistan. Of course, more than the UN agencies in Pakistan, it is the governments at the centre and the provinces that are responsible for the continuing sorry state of affairs.

Before concluding this column, it would be unrealistic not to acknowledge the valiant endeavours made by Unesco to keep the literacy issue alive in Pakistan. It certainly can and would be doing much more if its current inadequate budget is reasonably enhanced.

    The writer is the ex-chairman of the first National Commission for Literacy and Mass Education in Pakistan and currently heads PACADE, which is the national NGO for literacy and continuing education.