Food insecurity

By Memoona Qazi
Published in The News on September 06, 2022

Pakistan has yet again fallen prey to climate-induced calamities. This time the scale of the disaster is much worse as all four provinces are experiencing the worst kind of floods, with Balochistan and Sindh hit hardest.

With one-third of the country under water, many believe that Pakistan is currently experiencing the worst devastation in its history. More than 1000 lives have been lost and around 1600 have been injured; the devastating floods have claimed the lives of about 735,000 livestock, and almost two million acres of crop have reportedly been affected.

As governments and NGOs carry out their rescue and relief operations, there are millions who have been displaced following the destruction of their houses and properties. While the first priority is to be able to rescue the stranded, we need to prepare ourselves for the much bigger crises that lie ahead of us. With the country already caught in a severe economic crisis – be it in terms of record high inflation caused by an unjustifiable increase in petroleum prices, soaring electricity charges, or the balance of payments crisis – the future seems to be even more bleak.

Having destroyed millions of acres of crops, the floods have posed immense challenges of dealing with the severe food insecurity that hangs upon us like a weapon. It looks like the coming winters are going to be the toughest we will ever experience. Winter is already a challenging time every year in terms of shortage of gas and provision of basic food supplies. What with the current rates of inflation and the devastating impacts of the ongoing floods on our food baskets, these prices will only get compounded in the days ahead.

Pakistan is currently facing record-high inflation, with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) soaring to 27.3 per cent – the highest ever in 49 years; and those falling in the lowest two quintiles of wealth are hit the hardest. It is in times like this that the government announces relief packages to support the most vulnerable and marginalized sections of the society, but is it even possible? With more than two million acres of crops wiped out by the ongoing floods, Pakistan’s bread basket is all but destroyed.

Experts have weighed in on the extent of the upcoming food insecurity. Unfortunately, the challenge lying ahead of us is massive and is only further compounded by the ever-increasing inflation rate. Moreover, the economy is barely staggering along as we have entered yet another IMF programme which brings more bad news for the common citizen as fuel and electricity prices are increased overnight.

Pakistan is perhaps undergoing the hardest times in its history as while we try to grapple with increasing political and the accompanied economic crises on the one hand, and the worst flooding on the other. Under such circumstances, securing the provision of basic food items domestically – wheat in particular – for the upcoming winters seems out of the question.

Perhaps the government is eyeing importing food items, wheat especially, to provide for the coming winter season but how will it manage with the current state of the economy? The economy is running out of foreign exchange reserves and the soaring fuel prices are pushing the inflation rate beyond control. Even if imports are managed somehow, will the regular citizen be able to afford it?

Pakistan is indeed facing the most critical and challenging times at present, and if there is something to be learnt from this entire climate tragedy it is that we need to prepare well before time for the future implications of such tragedies are far beyond our control. While it is quite comforting to see that the immediate response to the current disaster is that of providing rescue and relief to the flood victims, much needs to be done to cater to the millions displaced and even more to tackle the immense challenge of food insecurity created as a result of this tragedy.

The writer is a research assistant at the Lahore School of Economics and can be reached at: qazimemona94@gmail.com

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