Pakistanis are fast becoming a wasted nation. The alarmingly high level of malnutrition observed in Pakistan in the past few years is far worse than what has been observed in the sub-Saharan Africa. Millions of Pakistani children have been identified as stunted, under-weight, and wasting because of hunger, disease, and poverty.
While the future of millions of children is threatened by hunger, the civil and military elites in Pakistan continue to pour undisclosed billions into conventional and nuclear weapons. The oft morbidly obese leaders of the right-wing religious and political parties are also in step with the military establishment as they continue to mobilise the starving masses to support developing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
In 2006, the United Nations estimated that no fewer than 35 million Pakistanis were malnourished. However, those who put the nation on the path to pursue nuclear weapons never suffered poverty, disease or hunger. For instance, Dr. Qadeer Khan’s daughters did not have to starve even when their father was pursuing prohibitively expensive Uranium enrichment for the weapons program. And whereas Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto promised to eat grass if he had to for pursuing nuclear weapons, he or his kin never did. Between their villas in Europe and hotels in Mali, those who pushed Pakistan into pursuing nuclear weapons did quite well for their personal fortunes.
The same could not be said for millions of starving Pakistanis whose welfare, experts believe, is worse than those in the war-torn Africa. Last week, Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, a consortium of 41 large international NGOs, revealed that 2.5 million people in the flood-stricken areas were still without food, water, shelter, sanitation, and healthcare. David Wright, country director of the NGO Save the Children, was explicit in his warnings about the dire conditions threatening the very survival of the flood-affected families in Sindh. “The floods have exposed and deepened a food crisis in Sindh that has resulted in malnutrition rates far worse than those in sub-Saharan Africa,” he warned.
Masroor Gilani of AFP reported last week on the plight of Najma Warag, a mother of three children rendered homeless by the floods in southern Badin. ”If you want to see what a miserable life is, come and visit us. Our children are sick, we have no home, no clothes, no money, and eat only one meal a day,” Ms. Warag told AFP of her daily struggle with life. Unlike Aafia Saddiqui, whose detention in the United States is a cause celebre for the urban Pakistanis, Najma Warag and her children are no one’s top priority on the political left or right of Pakistan.
The hardliners amongst the religious political parties and their proxies in the outlawed militant groups neither help the starving in Pakistan nor let others come to their rescue. Pakistan has become one of the most dangerous places for expatriate workers. In fact, no other single country has recorded as many expat workers kidnapped as in Pakistan.
While the right-wing religious parties, militants and their handlers have been reluctant to help the starving flood victims, the federal government has not fared any better. In a recently released report, international aid agencies revealed that as they rushed in to help in August 2011, Pakistani government preempted them for assisting the flood victims. The aid agencies wanted to disburse cash directly to the flood victims. The government instead wanted to be in the middle, adding extra layers of bureaucracy and increasing the odds of graft in relief aid distribution. By end of August 2011, 2 million Pakistanis were already hit by the floods. The government reluctantly permitted international aid agencies to operate in Pakistan weeks later on September 07, 2011.
It is hard to comprehend why Pakistani government initially prevented relief efforts by international donors, especially when the government itself had fallen short of providing relief to the flood victims in 2011 and earlier in 2010 when the UN declared that floods in Pakistan were the greatest humanitarian crisis in its 65 year history. The Associated Press (AP) reported in January 2011 that the UN had declared that flood-hit areas in Pakistan were experiencing famine-like malnutrition. A survey jointly conducted by UNICEF and the government of Sindh revealed that one in every four children in Sindh was suffering from acute malnutrition. Karen Allen, UNICEF’s deputy representative in Pakistan, was alarmed by the “shockingly bad” conditions of the victims of flood. She told AP in January 2011 that she had not seen “levels of malnutrition this bad since the worst famine in Ethiopia, Darfur, and Chad.”
With such dire warnings from the international relief organisations issued as early as in January 2011, the Pakistani government failed to heed when the floods hit yet again in August 2011.
Food Price Inflation
While the floods played havoc with Pakistan’s food supply chains, the very poor in Pakistan were already finding it hard to feed their families, owing to the grain price inflation in 2007. As the prices of staple food items increased globally, the poor in Pakistan had to cut their food intake because their food budgets could not afford enough. Whereas the grain prices stabilised in 2008 and 2009, the same did not happen in Pakistan where wheat prices continued to soar, owing to the ill-planning and lack of foresight on the part of the government.
Wolfgang Herbinger, director of the World Food Program (WFP) in Pakistan told AFP in March 2011 that the reason behind sustained food price inflation in Pakistan is the fact that the government of Pakistan, being the largest wheat buyer, sets the farm-gate prices. And even when grain production normalised globally, as well as in Pakistan, the prices did not adjust in Pakistan because the government continued to buy wheat at higher than the market price in Pakistan, thus raising the price for all wheat buyers. If the prices are not adjusted, warned Herbinger, the country can be full of food, however, the majority may still not be able to afford it.