In-depth: A global food crisis

PAKISTAN: Growing worries over food security

Rising food prices are worsening food security
LAHORE, 4 October 2012 (IRIN) - Pakistan has faced a rising food crisis for the last three years, and global price hikes could worsen the situation.

“Given the predictions for lower global production of cereal crops this year, there is likely to be a global hike in prices that will affect Pakistan,” said Amjad Jamal, spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Pakistan.

“Due to the massive floods of 2010 followed by further flooding in 2011, rising food prices, energy shortages and continuing conflict in parts of the country, the food security situation has worsened since 2009.”

WFP notes in its market survey for August that wheat prices in Pakistan have only gone up slightly, poultry prices have increased significantly, and gram pulse prices have risen 55 percent in a year.

Water shortages in some areas are also affecting food production: “A lack of water this year has affected the maize and cotton seed crop, used as animal feed, and the 2012 monsoon has brought low rainfall [affecting vegetable prices],” explained Muhammad Ibrahim Mughul, chairman of the Agri Forum of Pakistan which represents farmers.

High food prices are driving more people to seek food handouts from charitable organizations.

“There is a vast growth in the numbers that turn up at our free feeding centres - I would say a 40 percent increase this year alone and each year since 2009 or so,” Anwar Kazmi, spokesman for the Edhi Foundation, told IRIN from Karachi. The charitable Foundation, the largest in the country, provides free food to thousands daily.

“Due to inflation even the middle class now come to us to get food,” Kazmi said.

The cost of food items rose by 9.8 percent between March 2011 and March 2012 while non-food items went up 11.5 percent over the same period, according to the Consumer Price Index maintained by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

The poor have been hit hardest. Even if food is available in the markets, not everyone can afford it.

''The poor’s purchasing power is already low and they may not be able to meet their dietary needs.''
“The poor’s purchasing power is already low and they may not be able to meet their dietary needs, or may have to reduce spending on other essential needs such as health and education,” WFP’s Jamal told IRIN.

IDPs fare badly

Among the poorest of the poor are internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there is a funding gap of US$21 million for food security operations in these areas for the rest of the year, affecting 1.2 million IDPs.

Another vulnerable group are the three million Afghan refugees.

The Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, in its 2011 Global Hunger Index said the hunger situation in Pakistan remained “alarming”. The index is based on three factors: malnutrition, child underweight levels and child mortality. The index also notes that hunger in Pakistan has grown over the last decade.

In a December 2011 report, the country’s Central Bank stated: “The majority of the rural population is facing food insecurity including malnutrition, undernutrition and hunger. The population consuming less than 1,700 calories per day, which is far below the international levels, has increased from 35 million to 45 million during the last couple of years.” In an April 2012 report published in the media the Bank said 37 percent of the urban population were food insecure, and warned the government to “reduce the risk of a severe hunger-like situation.”

While experts are still assessing the situation, those who already have too little food say they are “not interested” in new studies.

“All I know is that we live only on what we find on rubbish heaps. My children and I scavenge daily, sell items that can bring in money such as bottles or iron scrap, and take home what rotten vegetables, discarded `roti’ [flat bread] or other edibles we can find to make up our dinner,” said Sharifan Bibi, 40, a widow who sifts through the giant garbage heaps strewn along the railway line. She says she has no other way to feed herself and her five children, and only wants to know what the government is doing to “help people like us”.

The situation has prompted individuals to step in. Parveen Saeed, a housewife, began a small-scale food provision programme in Karachi called `khana ghar’ or `House of Food’ in 2002, after reading about a woman who had killed her children rather than watching them starve.

“It is the government which needs to do more to feed the millions who are hungry. They have the resources needed for this. People like myself can only relieve the hunger of a few," she told IRIN.

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