Crisis upon crisis

 
July 30, 2020

If there is one thing that unites almost every household in Pakistan today, it is the rising costs of commodities especially for wheat flour and sugar. Lately medicines, including essential drugs,...

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If there is one thing that unites almost every household in Pakistan today, it is the rising costs of commodities especially for wheat flour and sugar. Lately medicines, including essential drugs, have also been added to the list. Currently, following an increase of over Rs7 last month, sugar is now being sold at Rs95 per kg. Consumers fear that if inflation continues at the same pace the price will soon hit the Rs100 mark. Wheat flour meanwhile at 'chakkis' is available at Rs70 per kg. The bags sold in the market are available at a slightly lower cost.

In this situation, which has grown more and more critical since the start of the year, some industrialists have imported sugar, creating what should have been a surplus. This however has not affected prices for the ordinary buyer. In addition, we also have reports that large amounts of sugar seem to have simply vanished into thin air given that production was reported in January to be higher than normal. No one appears to have uncovered where this sugar went. While the government has consistently blamed hoarders and black-marketeers for the high cost, promising action would be taken against them, nothing has happened on the ground. Essentially the situation for wheat flour is much the same. It is difficult to understand why the government is unable to manage the price situation, given that some of the ruling party’s most senior members are among the biggest producers of sugar in the country. There appears to be some bizarre confusion over the basic economic principle of supply and demand and its impact on prices.

In addition to this, there are reports that while both sugar and wheat flour are provided to utility stores at lower costs, they are picked up by larger commercial sellers and sold at a rate prevailing in the market. This leaves people very little choice but to buy the items at whatever price they are available at. Families after all cannot survive without wheat flour or sugar. The demand that the government act against the sugar lobby has only been partially followed through and the larger problem still looms. The Supreme Court has given the go-ahead to proceed on the recommendations made by the Sugar Commission. But it will take time. Until then, there is no certainty that people will be able to manage at a time when they are also hit by other problems brought by the coronavirus pandemic and are literally struggling to survive, with the government offering them no relief at all.



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