LONDON, United Kingdom — One of the pressing issues Pakistan faces today is a growing food crisis. Food scarcity and hunger are two of many implications of the economic and political issues that have been plaguing the country for the past few years. Currently, Pakistan ranks 92 out of 116 countries on the Global Hunger Index (GHI). In addition due to its rating of 24.7, the country’s hunger level is grouped as “serious.” The floods in the summer of 2022 added another layer to the instability and issues facing the state. With fields of crops being destroyed and many people losing their homes and mean to survive, the food crises facing Pakistan are rising at an alarming rate. There are many nuances to this issue, however, the root cause of the hunger crisis in Pakistan are the physical and economic effects of the summer floods in 2022.
One of the organizations that were on the ground from the beginning of the floods was Islamic Relief. It is a group that works tirelessly across the globe to combat issues such as poverty and food scarcity. The organization has been working in Pakistan since 1992 and has already supported more than 800,000 people in Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh. Moreso, Islamic Relief intends to start work on building homes in some of the worst flood-affected districts, such as Dadu and Sohbatpur in Baluchistan.
The floods disproportionately impacted areas that are less developed and have poorer infrastructure, such as Sindh and Baluchistan. The Borgen Project spoke with Hassan Ghani, regional manager for Islamic Relief Canada. He stated that “These people lost their livelihood. They inherited their lands and they move around in groups, often as tribes. So as you can imagine, that means a lot of their livelihood and agricultural land is inherited, but they completely lost it so their kids will be unfortunately seeing the effects of it shortly.” Many of these areas suffer from institutional issues, such as systematic inequality, thus the adverse effects of the floods further push the poverty line.
The Future of the Hunger Crisis
One of the most pressing issues from these floods is the implications for the future of the hunger crisis in Pakistan. According to Hassan, “Recent floods heavily impacted Pakistan’s economy and this includes livestock and staple crops.” The World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that by the end of March, around 5.1 million people were within reach of famine-level hunger. What is even more shocking about this statistic is that the number is 1.1 million higher than the previous quarter, indicating the food crisis is rising at an alarming rate.
Meanwhile, inflation has reached almost 25%, drastically increasing the prices of necessities and making it even more difficult for people living in the rural areas of Sindh and Baluchistan. Further alleviating these crises is the Governments economic policies, as it attempts to pull the Pakistani economy out of a probable default. In February 2023, the Government raised taxes and “trimmed subsidies on fuel and electricity as part of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF),” according to NPR. However, this attempt to pull Pakistan out of its precarious economic situation may result in inflation rising to around 30%, posing further obstacles for those who are currently unable to find their next meal.
The WFP estimates that an average Pakistani household spends more than 50% of its monthly income on food. As a result, events such as floods can have calamitous effects on households across the country. Especially for a state such as Pakistan, which is suffering from institutional and societal inequality, natural disasters have an extremely desolate impact.
To counter some of these effects, organizations such as Islamic Relief and the WFP work tirelessly to pre-emptively prepare for such events. The WFP “provides capacity strengthening and technical assistance in disaster preparedness and response at the federal and provincial levels, community-based disaster risk management, school safety, multi-hazard vulnerability risk assessment, supply chain management, the design and implementation of a commodity management system, and a beneficiary feedback hotline.”
According to Hassan, Islamic Relief adopts “a community-based approach.” He further explains “We don’t move on to the next community until one community is good, it’s been taken care of looked and then we move to the next. So that’s why we’re still actually moving, hopping from one community to another because there’s still a lot of communities in need.” There are many challenges the organization faces while working in the country, but its work is crucial as the operations are often the driving force for many communities.
According to the World Bank, there are several changes that the Pakistani government needs to implement to deal with the pressing issue of hunger and food scarcity. First and foremost, the Government of Pakistan needs to “address food insecurity in rural and urban areas through multi-sectoral operations.” These operations need to make markets more accessible to both producers and consumers, to reduce institutional inequality in sectors such as agriculture. Another avenue where the government needs to be more efficient is in the livestock industry, where both the COVID-19 pandemic and the floods highlighted the risk of animal-to-human disease transmissions.
In essence, the Pakistani government needs to “take concrete steps such as enhancing vaccination campaigns against common livestock diseases, formulating improved regulations for the establishment and operations of livestock colonies and developing institutional capacities and protocols for surveillance, monitoring, and reporting system in both rural and urban areas.” Finally, there must be greater “collaboration among government actors, the private sector, civil society and charitable organizations,” to ensure they are coming up with greater strategies to target the issues of the hunger crises in Pakistan in the future.
– Saad Haque