The basic human right to food is, along with a whole host of other ‘rights’, non-existent in Pakistan, where an estimated 48.6 per cent of the population no longer have access to adequate nutrition. This is a horrific situation and is the result of governmental inaction, rampant inflation and sickening corporate greed, criminal in a country with an agricultural backbone of long-standing and one in which stunning amounts of perfectly edible food are dumped into the garbage on a daily basis.
The department of agriculture repeatedly claims that more than enough food is indigenously produced and that food security is therefore not an issue, but it completely fails to factor in that millions of people, perhaps as many as 80–90 million now, can no longer afford to purchase even the very basic dietary necessities, let alone pay for education and health care. Government outlets, such as the ridiculously lauded Utility Stores Corporation, with its grossly inferior goods and supposedly monitored ‘sasta bazaars’ selling third, fourth and fifth class produce, in no way alleviates the shocking reality that a huge segment of the population is malnourished and, in an increasing number of cases, faces cruel starvation unless remedial action is taken on an emergency basis.
For such a situation to exist in a land where mind-bogglingly expensive fashion shows and privately held extravaganzas are part and parcel of life for the ‘elite’ is shocking enough, smacking as it does of pre-revolutionary Iran, but for it also to exist alongside massive wastage of potentially productive yet currently either underutilised or completely wasted land, is disgusting indeed. One only has to look around, minus the usual blinkers, to see that vast tracks of precious land — be this in the form of neglected agricultural holdings, the grounds of educational and governmental buildings, hospitals or other complexes along with the astonishingly labour-intensive, water-guzzling ‘lush green lawns’ of the ‘haves’ — could, should and must be brought under sensible cultivation if the existing, incredibly dangerous, societal divide is not to fracture and ultimately explode.
In regard to feeding the hungry, Pakistan would do well to follow the example of Cuba which, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, on which it depended for oil and agricultural inputs, in 1989 was suddenly faced with a 50 per cent shortfall in available food compared to what was in the market being priced out of reach of the majority of the population. The Cuban people, however, did not throw their hands in the air and shout ‘aid’ as Pakistan is in the sad habit of doing, but promptly got on with the task of growing whatever they could, wherever possible, including on every square inch of urban land that could conceivably be brought under cultivation and, with government encouragement and assistance, were able to feed themselves in no time at all. Cuba’s ‘Special Period’, as it is known, was primarily successful simply because the people, irrespective of cast, creed or financial standing, were forced by circumstances to pull together and save themselves, which is exactly what we, here in Pakistan, need to do.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th, 2011.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ