THE month of fasting is a difficult period for low- to middle-income people across the country because of the impact that speculative behaviour has on food and other prices. This year is particularly tough as people are already experiencing hardship caused by the constantly surging prices of food, fuel, and power as well as rising unemployment levels due to one of the worst economic crises in our history. The situation is already forcing them to make tough calls — from cutting down on food, health and other essential expenditure to pulling their children out of school. Sadly, desperation has led to even more extreme measures, as was illustrated by a recent incident in Karachi where a jobless man poisoned himself, his wife and their two daughters to escape a life of poverty. Unfortunately, such instances may increase.
Meanwhile, short-term, weekly inflation saw a record spike of 45.64pc just a week before the start of Ramazan as millions toiled to put food on the table. Inflation has stayed above 40pc for the first time since August last year. Monthly consumer inflation had already skyrocketed to 31.5pc in February, the fastest in five decades. The rise in food prices is especially difficult for the majority of Pakistanis, and the beginning of the holy month is set to see prices climb to record levels owing to the seasonal impact of increased demand and looming shortages because of speculative behaviour. That would spell disaster for millions as it means an even greater burden on the economically vulnerable and food-insecure segments of the population. Short-term and monthly consumer inflation is expected to climb further going forward as the full impact of currency depreciation, the hike in consumption tax and higher energy costs is yet to reflect in the data of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. Add to that the Ramazan factor and we have a storm gathering on the horizon for vulnerable groups. The government has announced subsidised Ramazan bazaars to help them. If the authorities wish to help those sections of society that are disproportionately affected by inflation, they must adopt policies to stabilise prices in the short to long term. Unfortunately, Ramazan bazaars are seen to benefit only a limited portion of the people, and that too mostly in the urban centres, while the bulk of the funds allocated are allegedly squandered or stolen by officialdom.
Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2023
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