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One of the biggest yet under-appreciated difficulties in managing the Covid-19 in Pakistan is the lack of accurate, reliable data that can help policymakers craft solutions for during-Covid relief and post-Covid economic recovery. As it turns out that Pakistan is not the only country facing this problem.

Two recent surveys held under the aegis of the United Nations Statistical Division, in partnership with World Bank’s Development Data Group that national statistics organisations (NSO) in both low- and lower-middle income countries are increasingly in need of assistance to mitigate the pandemic-led challenges. Of the more than 100 NSO surveyed, most voiced “a strong need for every type of support”, including equipment, training, technical and financial assistance, and infrastructure.

Pakistan is no stranger to this. That beefing up various sorts of national and sub-national statistics is critical for better relief targeting, policy action and revisions as well as better planning for post-Covid recovery has been discussed earlier in this space. However, there seems to be little appreciation for the importance or the urgency of the matter. (See ‘Covid-economy: Big Data should be Pakistan’s New Deal’ April 16, 2020 & ‘Timely data in Covid times’ 19 Aug 2020)

If fiscal constraint is the biggest problem towards strengthening of national and sub-national socio-economic statistics, then it would be prudent to explore international funding for the same. There is a growing understanding among the multilateral that global statistical community and donors must urgently provide technical and financial assistance and infrastructure support to NSOs, not only enabling them to continue operating effectively but also to innovate or adopt fast-evolving data collection methods, skills, tools and technologies.

This agenda sits well in the overarching theme of inequality, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, where data and documentation inequalities within low- and lower-middle income countries like Pakistan fosters inequality in the distribution of various relief endowments and incentives offered by the states.

However, given the silence of Pakistan’s national and sub-national governments on this issue, it appears poverty of finances is not the biggest problem. Poverty of thought is.