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Thursday February 29, 2024

Food stampede

By Editorial Board
March 28, 2023

A dystopia awaits the teeming millions of this country if our finance managers don’t get their act together. When hundreds of people lined up in front of a free-flour distribution point in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) last week, they would not have thought that collecting a 10kg bag of flour would turn into a matter of life and death. Shaken, hopeless and desperate due to the current crippling economic conditions, people got a little impatient during the distribution drive, leading to a stampede that resulted in the death of at least one elderly man. The distribution drive was held in line with the directives from the KP caretaker government which had earlier announced to distribute over Rs19 billion worth of flour to 5.7 million families in the province during the month of Ramazan. Eyewitnesses have shared that there was only one person handling the distribution process, something that would be virtually impossible to manage.

Flour is a basic food product, essential for people’s survival. And no pro-free market economist can possibly oppose the idea that it should ideally be sold in the market at affordable rates. But in our country, almost all sectors have become hostage to profiteering where the interests of mill owners and profiteers come first. Then, there are bureaucratic hurdles that make it difficult for mill owners and the government to sit down together and resolve pricing issues.

The flour crisis hit Pakistan after the Ukraine war and exacerbated after the 2022 floods. All these factors led to a sudden surge in flour prices. According to data released by the Pakistan Bureau Statistics (PBS) for the seven-day period ending on March 23, the price of wheat flour increased 1.8 per cent on a week-on-week basis – and 46.65 per cent on a year-on-year basis. Charsadda is one of the places that got hit by floods last year. Many people are still homeless and trying to survive with whatever meagre resources they have. In such conditions, the district administration should make much better arrangements for providing people with free flour. Whatever happened at the distribution point would have been avoided had the caretaker government thought of a respectful and organized mechanism to distribute flour bags. The government should introduce ration cards and work with grocery stores, allowing people to get the bag from the store whenever they please. With technological advancements and the presence of a strong privately-run marketplace, such distribution will not become such a chaotic task.