Pakistan faces ticking hunger bomb

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By Akansha Vashist

New Delhi, January 18: While half the population in Afghanistan is battling hunger, the food crisis is fast spreading in neighbouring Pakistan. The spell of sever heat wave followed by super floods, which marooned one-third of Pakistan are now being reported to have unleashed unprecedented food shortage in the Islamic country, with videos of quarrels among the people for wheat flour making rounds of the social media.

Food insecurity in Pakistan was noted by the 2022 Global Hunger Index, which ranked the country at the 99th position out of the 121 countries. “With a score of 26.1, Pakistan has a level of hunger that is serious,” the report added.

The condition of women and children is more worrisome. They are the worst affected section of the flood affected population. “More than 3.4 million children in Pakistan are facing chronic hunger, with an estimated 760,000 children in flood-hit areas now experiencing severe food shortages and risking severe malnutrition,” said an official of the NGO Save the Children.

Various international agencies and Pakistan’s own National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) estimated that more than three million people were affected in 90 districts, spanning over six provinces of the country by the super floods, which were the worst in the last 10 years. By the end of November 2022, reported NDMA, nearly 2000 lives had been lost, more than a million livestock had perished and over 2.1 million people were left homeless because of the floods.

Occupation of most of this affected population is farming. Their crops were destroyed and fields remain inundated. They are left with nothing to eat and no source of income. The NGOs estimated that even before the floods, almost half of Pakistan’s population lived close to the poverty line, on less than three or four dollars a day.

And by the time winters hit, hunger had already spread its wings over a full one-third of Pakistan’s territory. Families lie curled up in 8X8 tents waiting for whatever little food they get from the authorities. The United Nations, in a report, stated: “The deadly rains displaced another 33 million people and raised fears of a public health crisis. With inflation and higher food prices, the number of people facing the prospect of food insecurity doubled to 14.6 million.”

“Before, the people in our village would help me with food, clothes and sometimes money, which helped me to survive and provide for my children. But since the floods, I’m worried as everyone in the village seem to be in the same situation as us. That means less help, or almost no help, for my children and me,” said Zainab, a widow and mother of seven children.

People are going into debt or selling what little they have left to buy food, relying on charity or sending their children to work.  This helplessness is voiced by various respondents in a survey conducted last year by Save the Children, a NGO.

The survey also found that a quarter of desperate parents had been forced to send their children out to work to earn an income. Incidents of child marriage were also reported; 55 parents told ‘Save the Children’ that they had married off one of their children since the floods. Around the same number said they had no choice but to send their children out begging so that they could buy food.

Water experts have long decried the state’s lack of attention to building water infrastructure, which has diminished its capacity to withstand sharp increases in river flows. Another problem is deforestation, which means fewer bulwarks against raging floodwaters. Poor drainage systems also exacerbate flooding, and unregulated construction in flood zones results in more property damage and risks to lives.

However, Pakistan is being helped by its friends in the West and other parts of the world with reconstruction efforts, with the total aid amount topping $8 billion by January 2023, informed Pakistani Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb.

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