THE cost of war is visible not only in gun smoke, bloodshed and tears; it is also evident in the sweeping away of the living rights of people affected by conflict, irrespective of gender and age. According to the Global Network’s 2022 Global Report on Food Crisis, clashes and wars remain significant drivers of food insecurity worldwide. Wars make weapons even out of food, a basic necessity and the right of every human being.

Meanwhile, climate challenges, pandemic blows and economic instability have resulted in a global hike in fuel and food prices, along with the war in Ukraine having a devastating impact on worldwide food security. Worldwide, around 47 million people are facing a shortage of wheat and other supplies. The UN sanctions on Russia have further disrupted import transit to West and Central Africa, pushing away further the major target of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 to end hunger.

Food insecurity compels ‘hunger’, which is mainly associated with inadequate dietary energy intake. The Global Hunger Index 2021 stated that Central Africa faced “alarming” and South Asia “serious” hunger with scores of 43 and 24.7 GHI respectively. Central Africa was ranked 114, while Pakistan, India and Afghanistan were ranked 92, 101 and 103, respectively, out of 116 countries. The report also highlighted the precarious food insecurity situation in Balochistan, Sindh and KP due to severe drought and inadequate rainfall in the country.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine is also having an indirect impact on food availability in the country. Around 60 per cent of the wheat consumed in the country was imported from Ukraine in FY20-21, making us the third largest importer of wheat (the fourth largest being Russia). The presently lower export rate of Ukraine’s grain has affected global energy and food prices, and has also strained Pakistan’s international trade. The country would have to find new sources of wheat or wait for a bumper crop to fulfil domestic needs. The International Food Security Assessment, 2021-31, has warned that food insecurity in Pakistan is expected to reach 38pc in the next decade.

Sustainable nutritional goals are needed in Pakistan.

Within the region, Sri Lanka has also felt the squeeze of war (Russia is the second-largest buyer of Sri Lankan tea) and has experienced an economic meltdown that has resulted in a shortage of food, fuel and other essential items.

Around the world, insufficient food and the latter’s inadequate quality are major contributors to nutritional deficiencies, impacting the overall health conditions of the population concerned. In Pakistan, not everyone is blessed with enough means to consume three meals daily, let alone three healthy meals, to meet their dietary requirements. Besides food insecurity, nutritional insecurity is also a matter of concern. Our children and women are nutritionally deficient, which contributes to the overall burden of disease.

The huge economic and human damage inflicted due to the pandemic, poverty and conflict needs to be reversed. There is a dire need for effective measures and sustainable nutritional goals to restore food security in the current global situation. In Pakistan, not only poverty but political and economic instability, natural disasters, low agricultural attainments, and Covid-19, too, have shattered many sectors of human development in the region, aggravating the crises in health, education, etc. In this regard, subsidising healthy food items and providing an uninterrupted food supply to the population will help mitigate the acute food insecurity while also reducing nutritional inadequacies.

There is no one-size-fits-all methodology to handle food and nutritional insecurity. A consistent multisectoral app­roach is needed — for instance, by encouraging the agriculture sector and subsidising tax on the latest types of machinery and technologies to increase sustainable production and get bumper yields to avoid the import of grains.

To combat micronutrient deficiencies, there should be incentives for growing bio-fortified staple crops. Nutrition education is all about a balanced diet and can play a vital role in improving the utilisation of important nutrients and encourage wise food choices at different socioeconomic levels.

However, to promote innovation in the midst of multidimensional global challenges, the priorities and needs of small stakeholders should also be factored into national policies in order to keep a check on resources and prices of staple crops. It is important to bridge social and economic inequalities, revive the economy and compensate for the losses incurred during the current wheat supply and price crises.

The writer is editor of Scientific Investigation and Global Network of Scientists.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2022

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