With figures of malnutrition rising every year, 50% of Pakistan’s population remains food insecure, according to the UN World Food Program (WFP).
In an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, WFP representative and Country Director for Pakistan Jean Luc Siblot said that while Pakistan’s government has taken an initiative to cater to the problem, the process will still require much time and resources.
“The recent agreement to donate 500,000 metric tonnes of wheat by the newly created Pakistan Ministry of Food Security and Research (MFSR) might be a step to combat malnutrition and improve food security among vulnerable groups across the country,” said Siblot. “This donation is the largest in recent years by any country where WFP has operations.”
Siblot, who recently came to Pakistan, stressed that the on-ground situation is very different from how the international media portrays it. A huge part of the population is malnourished and this needs to be given top priority.
One result of recurrent natural and man-made crises has been a sharp increase in food insecurity across the country, despite sufficient national food production to meet the needs of Pakistan’s 170 million people. According to WFP, some 83 million people, almost 50 per cent of the population, were food insecure by 2010 – a massive increase from 38 per cent in 2003. In the aftermath of the 2010 flooding, this figure is believed to have risen to 90 million people and may have increased further after the recent floods.
“People do not have access to food items which have the nutritional value to meet their requirements. This would lead to issues with biological and mental development of the people,” Siblot informed.
The WFP representative believes the actual challenge is raising fund for transforming wheat into products that target certain segments of the population, such as baby food and high-energy biscuits. According to him, Pakistan does have resources but lacks the capacity to cater to this problem.
“The reason why the government has asked WFP for support is because our priorities are very well defined” he said.
The agency is likely to make an appeal to raise approximately US$100 million in funds needed for this process. According to Siblot this donation will encourage the international community to step up and support Pakistan in addressing food insecurity in the country. The WFP will begin the project in a few months, as soon as the donation is handed over to the agency by the government. The donation, valued at $144 million, will be handed over to the agency soon.
“The rate of malnutrition, especially amongst children and lactating mothers, is very alarming and something to worry about” stressed Siblot.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2012.
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