Pakistan ranked 92nd out of 116 nations in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) this year. With a score of 24.7, the country’s level of hunger is categorised as ‘serious’. On the regional level, Pakistan is better positioned as compared to India (ranked 101), while the other two close regional neighbours, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, outshine Pakistan by grabbing ranks of 76 and 65, respectively.

GHI is aimed at galvanising global action to combat hunger. The index comprises four indicators including undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and under-five mortality rate. While 37.6pc of children are stunted, Pakistan has been able to bring the proportion of the undernourished population down to 12.9pc from 21.1pc in 2000. Along the same lines, Pakistan has also succeeded in cutting down the percentage prevalence of wasting in under-five children to 7.1pc in 2020 from 14.1pc in 2000.

The report, jointly published by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe on global hunger, mentions: “As the year 2030 draws closer, achievement of the world’s commitment to Zero Hunger is tragically distant”. Further, it contends that current projections show that the world as a whole — and 47 countries in particular — will fail in achieving even low hunger by 2030. In addition, the global report on food crises-2021 predicts that food crises will become more widespread and severe, with a bleak outlook for 2021. According to the World Food Programme, 41 million people are on the verge of famine.

Food security is being threatened on numerous fronts, with growing conflicts, extreme weather events due to global climate change, and the economic and health issues posed by the Covid-19 pandemic all contributing to hunger. Food insecurity is about more than just a scarcity of food in the market. It also indicates a lack of sufficient funds to acquire food, let alone nutritious and wholesome foods.

Increasing food availability is insufficient to end hunger and undernutrition — it is just as essential, if not more so, to ensure that people have access to healthy and safe meals if the pervasive concern of stunting and wasting among children is to be dealt with

Over the last three years, Pakistan’s double-digit food price inflation, along with dwindling income, has left more Pakistanis food insecure. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that approximately 43pc of Pakistanis are food insecure and 18pc of those have acute food insecurity. The WFP contends that affordability is the “greatest barrier in achieving a nutritious diet,” estimating that the majority of Pakistanis are incapable of affording nutritionally acceptable food.

Thus, increasing food availability is insufficient to end hunger and undernutrition; it is just as essential, if not more so, to ensure that people have access to healthy and safe meals if universal food security and the pervasive concern of stunting and wasting among children are to be dealt with.

Our economic and financial policies have only exacerbated social and economic inequities while simultaneously increasing the number of people who are food insecure. To avoid future food crises, the government must strive to improve the value chain of fruit and vegetable crops while also ensuring the availability of storage facilities. The government must promote crop diversification, water management, and climate-smart farming to decrease the devastating effects of natural disasters on food security. Prioritising agricultural value addition and preserving subsidies for essential crops is also critical for the country’s food security.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Kamal is working as Assistant Professor at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, November 29th, 2021

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