Food shortage may spark violence in Pakistan: report

Post Source: By DAWN Correspondent

 
Thursday, 05 Aug, 2010

Flood-stricken people wait outside a relief center to get food supply on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010. - Photo by Ap

 

WASHINGTON: About 77 million people go hungry in Pakistan while 36 per cent of the population are afflicted by poverty, says a new report released on Wednesday.

“From small farmers to the urban masses and internally displaced persons, millions of Pakistanis are affected by the scourge of food insecurity,” warns the report by the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, Washington. The report notes that while the global food crisis subsisted in 2009, Pakistan continues to suffer from an acute food shortage. The report — “Hunger Pains: Pakistan’s Food Insecurity” — warns that the food shortage may lead to widespread violence if immediate steps are not taken to feed the hungry.

Quoting figures provided by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the report notes that in February 2010, the prices of wheat and rice — Pakistan’s two chief staple crops — were 30 to 50 per cent higher than before the global food crisis, and were on the increase.

The study links several recent incidents of violence to the food crisis, including the 2009 bombing of a World Food Programme office in Islamabad.

It also quotes WFP data from early 2010, showing that the prices of essential staples in Pakistan are nearly 40 per cent higher than five-year cumulative averages. The costs of sugar and cooking oil also escalated in the initial months of 2010.

The report notes that in early 2010, Pakistan’s food inflation registered at about 15 per cent — a far cry from the 30 per cent-plus figures several years earlier, “but still of great concern to the country’s economists, who noted that the Wholesale Price Index, a predictor of future price movements, stood at almost 20 per cent”. Such “soaring WPI-based inflation”, they said, portends further spikes in retail prices of key commodities.

“Weather, resource shortages, and conflict are exacerbating food insecurity in Pakistan,” says Michael Kugelman, who edited the report along with Robert Hathaway, director of the centre’s Asia programme.

The study notes that farmers and government authorities blamed drought-like conditions for reduced crop yields in late 2009 and early 2010. In the Swabi district, one farmer said his maize crop was “slashed” by 50 per cent. Rain-fed wheat-cropping areas have been hit particularly hard. Even the yields of irrigated areas are at risk. Meanwhile, Pakistan is burdened by devastating water shortages. The country’s per capita water availability ranks among Asia’s lowest, and is lower than that of many African nations.

At least 90 per cent of Pakistan’s dwindling water supplies are allocated to agriculture, yet inefficient irrigation and poor drainage have produced epidemics of water-logging and soil salinity across the countryside. As a result, “vast expanses” of farmland fail to produce successful harvests. Additionally, Pakistan is suffering through a chronic energy crisis with frequent electricity outages; these power failures undermine the effectiveness of energy-dependent agricultural technologies.

Finally, Pakistani military operations against militancy displaced about three million people in 2009. Those uprooted from Swat were forced to depart in the middle of the harvest season. About 1.7 million of these internally displaced persons have started returning home, yet they continue to struggle to obtain food.

More than a million Pakistanis remain displaced – including 250,000 from Bajaur.

“Little wonder that in February 2010, the FAO concluded that the country’s IDP crisis was causing severe localised food insecurity,” says Mr Kugelman.

“Yet as of mid-April 2010, only about 20 per cent of the nearly $540 million international appeal to assist Pakistan’s IDPs had been fulfilled.”

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