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Undernourished poor

January 13, 2013

IN its annual report ‘Change in cost of food basket,’ the Planning Commission of Pakistan has only reconfirmed what is being generally known and debated: how the phenomenal cost of living has risen, making life difficult for common man.

According to the report, the annual average cost of minimum caloric intake needed for bare human survival has increased from Rs785 in 2005-06 to Rs1,805 in 2011-12 — an increase of 130 per cent over the last six years. As a consequence of high prices, food consumption has decreased from average per capita per day caloric intake estimated 1,750 in 2004-05 to 1,700 calories per day in 2010-11.

Caloric intake during this period dropped as wheat and rice consumption went down by three per cent, pulses 32 per cent, sugar seven per cent, meat 17 per cent and vegetables by eight per cent. That means people are now surviving on sub-human level as far as basic food (stomach-filling) is concerned, leave alone quality.

This sharp price escalation has impacted food security, says the report and adds: “This phenomenal effect is evidently reflected through Food Expenditure Ratio (FER) showing gradual increase over time. To meet essential food expenditure, poor households are constrained to manage non-food expenditure by compromising expenditure on health and education, particularly for girls.

“The ever-increasing FER is indicative of a chronic quantity and quality food intake, particularly among infant and young children, leading to malnutrition across population groups having adverse affect on social indicators related to health, education and particularly MDGs.”

Food expenditure in relation to income and total expenditure remains an important indicator for food and nutritional security. According to the Household Integrated Economic Survey (HIES) 2010-11, the poorest households have to spend about 60 per cent or more of their income on food.

The result shows that 62 per cent population spends seven per cent more of their income on food, while 20 per cent population spends five per cent more and the richest 19 per cent population spend only two per cent more than two year earlier i.e., 2007-08.Calories available during the year 2011-12 were higher by 44 per cent compared to the intake of calories through actual food consumption. Similarly, the minimum calories recommended are 26 per cent higher than actual calories intake.

Cost of food basket for the year under review indicated a cumulative increase of four per cent, however fluctuating from Rs1,750 to maximum of Rs1,910 with an average of Rs1,805 over the year.

The comparison of annual average cost of food basket across provinces showed a marginal to sharp difference. It was high in federal area, Sindh and Baluchistan while low in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtoonkha as compared with the national average. The cost of food basket has been reviewed across regions of Punjab and Sindh.

The increasing food prices results in high food cost having impact on nutrition status of the household members as reflected in the recent nutrition data.

The malnutrition continues to affect adversely human capacities and efficiencies, impacting on individual earning and learning capacities, leading to further decline in income and thus the food intake.

The report shows a few very dangerous trends, which need to checked before it is too late. For the first time, people, unable to afford food, have simply started reducing their diet. The above-mentioned 1,700 calories are an average figure, which may contain sharp fluctuations, depending on areas and social strata.

As claimed by some private studies, in some parts of the country the caloric intake is as low as 500 to 600 calories a day. With this kind of food intake, human survival would be at stake.

Couple it with another figure in the study, which suggests that 62 per cent population has started compromising expenses on health and education, especially of girls, to meet food requirements and a horrible scenario emerges.

Secondly, the report also shows the extent of poverty. As much as 44 per cent more calories were nationally available than were actually consumed.

It means that food was available but people could not afford it. In the last one decade, the situation has been worsening to reach a point where the poor are left with no option but to reduce eating while putting national health in danger.

Thirdly, the government also needs to look into the possibility how much its receding writ is costing the common citizen. It may not be only poverty, but rigged market might also be keeping even basic food out of people’s reach.

The governments, both federal and provincial, need to act and act now. They need to plan food supply — from farm to folk — in meticulous manner; calculating national consumption, setting production targets, facilitating achievement of the targets and turning food markets more efficient, if needed through regulation.