Growing hunger

Published May 7, 2022

FOOD insecurity is a significant and persistent problem in Pakistan, with millions of poor to low- and middle-income households across the country experiencing some level of hunger or undernourishment. It may well be the biggest challenge facing Pakistan amid a growing population and increasing poverty. A new report published by the Global Network Against Food Crises says multiple shocks like high food and fuel prices, droughts, livestock diseases and widespread loss of income-generating opportunities due to the impact of Covid-19, as well as conflict, have driven high levels of food insecurity in Balochistan, KP and Sindh. This is worrisome given that Pakistan is ranked by the Global Hunger Index at 92nd position out of 116 countries and placed alongside nations with a “level of hunger that is serious”. Almost 13pc of the country’s population is reported by the index to be undernourished. At least 7pc of children under five years are described as wasted and 37.6pc as stunted, with 6.7pc dying before reaching their fifth birthday. The World Food Programme estimates that around 43pc Pakistanis are food-insecure, and 18pc of those face acute food insecurity. Although the statistics don’t really capture the situation on the ground, these numbers are staggering enough to merit action.

Food insecurity isn’t just about food scarcity. Unaffordability because of rampant poverty and access to food due to conflicts in various parts of the country are the biggest barriers to food security in Pakistan. Double-digit food inflation amid dwindling incomes and job losses has left more households food-insecure in the last three years. Also, food insecurity doesn’t affect all members of a family equally. Women and children are always more at risk of suffering hunger than the adult male family members. Additionally, the residents of poorer districts and backward regions face a far greater risk of food insecurity for longer periods. For a country like ours, the war against hunger will not be easy to win. It involves a vigorous effort against growing multidimensional poverty, regional inequality, the rural-urban divide and gender disparity, as well as wholesale changes in the government’s policies that directly and indirectly impact the ability of the average Pakistani to access and afford healthy food. No one expects the situation to change overnight. But we need to take the first step now. The upcoming budget can be an excellent opportunity for our rulers to start tweaking policies for a more pro-poor, inclusive growth.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2022

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