Struggling to cope amid rising food prices

The price of wheat in Pakistan has almost tripled since 2008, making people in places like the poorer suburbs of Lahore, capital of Punjab Province, wonder how they will feed their families, local residents say.



“A few years ago we paid just a little over Rs 200 [US$2.35] for a 20kg bag of wheat flour,” Saleem Yousaf, a father of four who works as a cook said. “Today, we pay over Rs 550 [$6.47] for the same amount, which lasts us less than a month, while the prices of vegetables, lentils, spices and everything else have also soared.”



Yousaf’s wife also works as a domestic help in Lahore, and together they earn Rs 12,000 [$142] per month. “Other families earn less, but we struggle hard to manage because all our four children are in school, and I really believe an education is vital to their future,” he told IRIN.



The minimum wage for workers was increased by the government from Rs 4,000 ($47) to Rs 6,000 ($70) in March 2008, but groups working for labour rights say implementation is poor.



Yousaf’s family spends Rs 4,000 each month to pay fees and buy books and stationery. Another 1,000 goes on utility bills. “Sometimes we barely manage to feed the children,” Yousaf added.



Javed Saleem, his 11-year-old son, told IRIN “We only eat at dinner time and have a mug of tea at breakfast. My parents cannot afford more.”



Other families in the impoverished Shadra area of Lahore, where Yousaf lives, face a similar situation - as do tens of thousands of others across the country.



Ironically, fields of wheat stand all around the Shadra, on the outskirts of Lahore, but the grain, which is the staple food in Punjab, is largely inaccessible to many because most of the crop is sold for export.



According to the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS NET), a combination of inflation and chronic food insecurity means many in Pakistan are vulnerable to price increases. Poverty and high food prices threaten food security, and in turn fuel inflation.



Malnutrition



“The high food prices have impacted people's ability to obtain required calories to live a healthy life,” Amjad Jamal of the UN World Food Programme Public Information Unit told IRIN from Islamabad. “The majority of Pakistanis spend half of their income on buying essential food items and are left with very little for health care and children’s education.



“This also leads to malnutrition in the longer run, which has been seen especially in the wake of recent floods, where Sindh is facing malnutrition problems,” he added.



Ghulam Nabi, a doctor in Shadra, said: “I see children brought in all the time who suffer malnutrition. They are simply not getting the calories they need and the families cannot manage to give them better food.”



The 2008 global financial and economic crisis, the displacement of about three million people in 2009 by fighting between militant groups and the Pakistani army, and the catastrophic floods in 2010 worsened the situation, he added.



According to Pakistan’s federal bureau of statistics, the consumer price index rose in February by 17.72 percent compared to the same period last year.



“My father-in-law is sick with hepatitis, but if we try to get medical care we will not be able to feed our family,” said Razia Bibi, a mother of five. She earns around Rs 6,000 ($70) a month stitching clothes. Her husband is unemployed. Since he lost his job seven months ago, the three daughters have not attended school.



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