THERE was a time — not too far in the past — when the general reality in Pakistan was that while people were poor, few went to bed hungry. With an economy based on agriculture, a sector that constituted the single greatest source of employment, most citizens had access to enough food, even though of the most basic variety. This is no longer the case. Over the years, the number of citizens who do not have access to sufficient quantities of food has been steadily increasing, and caloric intake has been compromised in even middle-income households. The situation faced by the poor is extremely disturbing. For some time now, various groups have been sounding the alarm. Unicef last year likened the levels of malnutrition in post-flood Sindh to those in Chad and Niger, while Oxfam International said that over a quarter of the population was undernourished. A survey undertaken earlier during the year showed that two-thirds of the population spends between 50 and 70 per cent of income on food alone.
Despite these stark realities, Pakistan has failed to come up with a concerted action plan to fight hunger and malnutrition. Committees have been formed, persons appointed and much paper has been moved around, but little difference can be seen on the ground. On Tuesday, the Minister for National Food Security and Research Mir Israrullah Zehri informed the Senate that according to the National Nutrition Survey 2011 (conducted by the Benazir Income Support Programme) around 58 per cent of the population is food insecure, while nearly 30 per cent suffers hunger or severe hunger. It is unfortunate then that there has been no action, as in the case of the National Zero Hunger Programme announced earlier by the then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. That announcement, Senator Zehri was forced to admit in the Senate this week, has yet to be given formal approval. Meanwhile, a draft Zero Hunger Action Plan prepared by the World Food Programme still lacks operational details. Time is indefensibly being wasted; it seems that our decision-makers have no idea of what it means to not know where the next meal is coming from.