Pakistan’s digital economy is gaining momentum during lockdown

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By Waqar Mustafa

As people plug into a digital future, they should also feel the urgency to restore their connection to the nature that sustains them before it’s too late

It’s summertime in Pakistan. But this year around, the change in season isn’t accompanied with the usual shopping fever for the light, breezy fabric preferred during this time.

Since coronavirus lockdown is keeping people confined to their homes, the jostling for lawn, the breathable, cotton fabric has moved to digital shops.

Online shopping is on the rise for the last couple of months of the lockdown. Banks have waived charges on fund transfers through online banking channels. The central bank has pushed awareness campaigns aimed at limiting the use of currency notes and visits to banks. E-commerce has been evolving at a slow pace. By the end of last year, the volume of e-commerce totalled Rs100 billion (or only $640m). The focus on online financial transactions and greater volumes of e-commerce may mean at least double that much, benefiting the South Asian nation which is struggling to keep its economy afloat as it battles infections from Covid-19 and people losing jobs.

It’s not just the world of e-commerce and finance that is going digital.

There were no spring or summer fashion weeks in the country this year. The country’s top designers are preparing themselves for a virtual fashion show called ‘Catwalk Cares’ where a lineup of 16 to 20 designers – who otherwise opt to go solo – will showcase about two to three outfits each. Stylists are similarly planning to style the models virtually – via FaceTime. An online solo exhibition, titled Cultural Note, features 20 acrylic paintings by Ahmad Habib depicting old Rawalpindi’s architecture that were all completed while the artist was confined to his home during the coronavirus lockdown is on. TV game shows, cooking shows, religious programmes have adjusted to restrictions. Artistes have held online concerts. Now they are set to perform at a virtual programme meant to raise funds. Educational institutes across the country are trying to deal with the crisis at hand by providing education online. However, many students seem dissatisfied with the way this is being done. Former cricketing greats have been holding online coaching and training sessions for younger lot.

Hosted by Pakistan, the ministers and senior health officials of the eight Saarc nations have also recently shared the virtual stage on the Covid-19 crisis. Telemedicine is trying to cater to the needs of people worried about whether they might be infected with the virus, and provide medical services to those isolating at home.

A digital revolution in the healthcare system, economic planning, education, business and governance is expected in Pakistan after the containment of the pandemic. Data-based government steps are also needed on reducing inequalities and climate action.

People are experiencing clean air, clear skies, green plants and trees, and chirping birds after a long time as a positive byproduct of the lockdown. The government is offering labourers idled due to the lockdown a chance to earn money by planting trees.

The project is part of the country’s initiative to plant billions of trees to counter the effects of climate change. Pakistan is badly affected by climate change, experiencing more than 150 extreme weather events during the last about a decade.

Humankind’s destruction of the planet and its biodiversity has caused the epidemic. Experts say: “Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people.”

They say future pandemics will happen more frequently, will kill more people, and will cause greater economic damage unless we start recognising the inextricable links between human health and the health of the planet, its ecosystems, and its nonhuman living creatures.

The Covid-19 pandemic has hastened Pakistan’s progress to digitisation. As its people plug into a digital future, they should also feel the urgency to restore their connection to the nature that sustains them before it’s too late. —Khaleej Times

{Waqar Mustafa is a print, broadcast and online journalist and commentator based in Pakistan}

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