In the 2020 Global Hunger Index, Pakistan ranks 88th out of the 107 countries with a score of 24.6. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) has released the key findings of the Household Integrated Economic Survey (HIES), 2018-19. It reveals that 16% of the population is experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity. The incidence is twice as high among the rural population, 20%, as among the urban, 9.2%. Shockingly, three out of five households, 61%, among the lowest two income quantiles in the survey, are experiencing food insecurity.
The situation has further worsened since March 2020 as a result of the pandemic crisis. As the economy has shrunk, the rate of unemployment and poverty has risen. The worst affected are the poorest segment of the population, who are more likely to be wage labourers, peasant farmers, women, and children.
In the last two decades, Pakistan has experienced many natural disasters such as heavy torrential rains, floods and long periods of drought causing hunger in the country. At government level, there are policy gaps in coping with hunger-like situations. There are no mechanisms of government that the increasing population of Pakistan could have ways to feed themselves. Institutional corruption is another factor that increases hunger and poverty. Government is spending less in the agriculture sector; fertile lands need to be taken care of by investing more and producing more to reduce hunger.
Wastage of food is also one of the major reasons of hunger in our country. According to an estimation, almost 40 percent of food is wasted in Pakistan. On one side, people are dying due to hunger, and on the other, there is an abundance of food that goes to waste.
Human poverty is undoubtedly the fundamental impetus for food insecurity. However, the relationship between food security, malnourishment and poverty has remained a subject of conceptual debate in the development arena. It is pertinent to note that the ability to buy food doesn’t ensure equal access to food among all people and at all points in time.
Malnutrition badly affecting each gender of the country, at the highest level, almost half of the country’s population is below the age of 20. As a result, the vulnerability to food insecurity and hunger remains a threat for the people of Pakistan. Statistics reveal that 44 percent of children in Pakistan are suffering from stunting, wasting or acute malnutrition. Every year, 800,000 children die in Pakistan. 61 percent children in Pakistan suffered from iron deficiency anaemia, 54 percent from Vitamin A deficiency, 40 percent from Vitamin D deficiency and 39 percent from zinc deficiency.This is indeed an alarming situation for policymakers and raises serious questions about the performance of governments and management authorities.
Maternal nutrition is also crucial not just for the mother’s own survival, but for her child’s chances of survival and development. Undernourished women are more likely to die in pregnancy, to give birth prematurely, and to have babies who are too small for their gestational age. Iron and calcium deficiency are identified as key contributors to maternal death, putting mothers at increased risk of anaemia and pre-eclampsia; maternal iron deficiency is also found to be associated with low birth weight.
The causes of child malnutrition are interrelated and multi-sectoral, and involve many different aspects of life. Food insecurity, the poor nutritional status of mothers, low education levels among mothers, suboptimal breastfeeding practices by mothers, frequent infections, lower utilisation of health services and care provided to children are considered to be the fundamental causes of malnourishment. These factors need to be addressed at the state level with utmost attention. Moreover, variations in food prices; high energy cost; climate change; and uncertainties within financial markets are some of the major impediments to food security.
In 2015, Pakistan took the pledge to becoming a ‘zero-hunger’ country by 2030, as prescribed in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals but it seems Pakistan has to go a long way in this regards. Hunger can be eliminated in our lifetimes, this requires comprehensive efforts to ensure that every man, woman and child enjoy their Right to Adequate Food; women are empowered; priority is given to family farming; and food systems everywhere are sustainable and resilient. There is an utmost need to take effective measures to ensure nutrition security. We have to raise awareness about balanced diet, food habits and healthy living. Across the globe, many different events are organised to raise awareness of problems in food supply and distribution and to raise money for cultivation of food plants and the distribution of food. Similarly, we need to organise symposia, conferences, workshops and presentations of particular issues like food production, distribution and security. There should also be micro-projects to help small-scale farmers at the grassroots level. The projects aim to help farmers be more productive and improve both local communities’ access to food and farmers’ cash income.
Some charitable organisation are playing excellent role in fulfilling the food needs. Their free food “Dastarkhwan” services available around the cities of the country have become a lifeline for hundreds of people. Such steps are mandatory for rest of the hungry humans too, in the absence of comprehensive steps and policies taken by the government.
Kashif Shamim Siddiqui
The writer is a poet and former student of economics at Karachi University.