The UN food aid chief’s statement that hunger in Pakistan is at emergency levels is a grim reminder of our worrying food security and malnutrition status. According to a report, the UN World Food Programme has declared that while the situation in Pakistan is dire, funding has now dwindled due to donor interest in other regions, such as Syria. Conflict and three consecutive years of flooding have caused untold damage to food security. In Swat, farmers complain that orchards and crops were destroyed both because of militancy and floods. The tribal areas face a similar situation.
The statistics indeed paint a sorry picture: nearly half of Pakistan’s women and children suffer from malnutrition, while around 1.5 million children face acute malnutrition. Forty per cent of children are underweight and a third of child deaths are associated with malnutrition. Micronutrient deficiencies are common, with 51 per cent of women and 62 per cent of children under five estimated to be anaemic. Malnutrition is believed to cost Pakistan two to three per cent of its GDP.
While international donors may be losing interest, it is regrettable that the political will to tackle this issue also seems to be missing. Since malnutrition in Pakistan is linked to poverty and the consumption of inadequate quantities of food with low nutrition levels, the government needs to lay emphasis on poverty reduction programmes. A multi-pronged approach is needed that tackles malnutrition through health, education, nutrition and agricultural initiatives. Beyond that, the government needs to look into the distribution and storage systems that may be leading to shortages. The role of middlemen in this regard can be destructive to production. Not only should the government assess the viability of a subsidy programme for farmers, it should also educate them and provide them adequate infrastructure to market their produce. Unless immediate steps are taken to tackle this issue, Pakistan will miss one of the major MDGs by a long shot to its own detriment.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2013.
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