Worsening hunger

Published December 8, 2022

THAT the dollar liquidity crunch has started hurting the import of essential items such as vegetables and raw material for drugs shows how dire the situation has become. A report in this newspaper says that commodity importers continue to face problems in opening letters of credit for imports because of the shortage of dollars in the market.

Held up at various terminals of the Karachi port are 417 containers of onions, ginger and garlic, along with industrial material, as banks are refusing to release documents because of an acute scarcity of foreign exchange, increasing the cost of imported vegetables on account of terminal and shipping charges, which eventually will have to be borne by consumers already trying to cope with steep food and energy inflation.

While the State Bank cannot be faulted for restricting imports in the given situation, it must ensure that food and raw material for drug-makers do not get stuck at the port if it wants to help inflation-stricken households.

With the summer floods having severely damaged food crops on around 4.5m acres of land, the prices of vegetables and wheat in the country are touching record highs. Pakistan already ranks 99th out of 121 nations on the Global Hunger Index and has a level of hunger that is serious.

According to some estimates, around 15pc to 16pc Pakistanis are reeling from food insecurity and the situation continues to worsen after the devastating floods. Describing Pakistan’s food crisis as the worst in the country’s history, an official of the Food and Agriculture Organisation recently stated that the situation of the nation has deteriorated owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and recent floods.

Over the years, high food prices, lack of rainfall, drought and livestock diseases have all added to the food insecurity being witnessed now. The flood damage to crops is making matters worse as the country already has some of the highest levels of malnutrition in the world, which is increasing due to the high prices of basic food items; all this is especially affecting women and children.

Food insecurity is unlikely to lessen in the next several months as shortages will keep prices elevated.

Rather, the crisis may deepen further in the near term if wheat sowing is delayed and output drops due to water-logging in the areas hit by the floods. Although the government has decided to purchase 450,000 tonnes of cereal from Russia on a government-to-government basis ahead of the next wheat harvest, the soaring prices will keep the staple food out of reach for the vast majority in the country.

With the people facing hardship in an inflationary environment, it is imperative for the government to ensure that it bridges food supply gaps and takes measures to keep prices at an affordable level for the average Pakistani, especially those from flood-affected areas.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

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