THE ‘good’ news is that there are a few countries worse off than us when it comes to the proportion of population that experiences hunger on a daily basis. But, needless to say, that is hardly much consolation. The newly released Global Hunger Index, the rather anodyne-sounding measure that ranks countries based on four criteria related to the nutritional well-being of its people, in particular children, shows Pakistan ranked at 107 out of 118 countries. This is a dire place to be, and highlights the extreme inequalities that prevail in the country and the impact they are having on our future generations. Consider that many of the countries below us are net food importers, or torn by conflict, and one is left wondering what exactly is our excuse.

Pakistan might be one of the few countries that can claim to be self-sufficient in food for many decades, yet has a very high proportion of people for whom hunger is a daily fact of life including a large number of children suffering from the physical effects of undernourishment including stunting and wasting. Even though our ranking has improved since 1992, when the index first began to be maintained, there has been a marked deceleration in the pace of this improvement since 2000, when our GHI score was 37.8 and fell to 33.4 in 2016. By contrast, many other countries halved their scores in the same time period. These include Bolivia, Senegal, Vietnam and Nicaragua, to name a few.

What excuse does a country that produces enough food to feed each one of its citizen have when it comes to the fact that more than a fifth of its population is undernourished, that a tenth of its children under the age of five are suffering from wasting (reduced bodyweight compared to height), and almost half of its children are stunted due to undernourishment and hunger? No number of mega projects or high aggregate economic growth can turn these numbers around, as the data makes abundantly clear since the proportions remain largely unchanged since 1992 when the data first began to be maintained. The issue is not even on the radar, as is evidenced from the latest health policy, launched last month after a gap of 15 years, and which focuses largely on healthcare as a clinical issue. Pakistan’s low ranking on the GHI, as well as other indices that measure social development, and its even more dismal performance in lifting its score over two and a half decades is as pressing a national issue as the power crisis or the state of public finances. Yet it comes in for no public discussion. This is beyond shameful. It is criminal neglect of the neediest segments of our population, who are, let us face it, victims of our greed. Let us make a commitment to change this, starting now.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2016

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