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Opinion

November 6, 2017

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When hunger becomes deadly

Around 22 percent of the country’s population is undernourished. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN has initiated World Food Day. The day is celebrated every year on October 16. The FAO had estimated that 37.5 million people in Pakistan do not receive proper nourishment.

The issue is complex, with protein and iodine deficiencies and other health problems triggered by the insufficient intake of essential nutrients. According to the Global Food Security Index 2016, Pakistan ranks at the 78th position among 113 countries with a score of 47.8.  Though it has improved from its previous hunger level among developing countries, Pakistan continues to perform far worse than most of its South Asian neighbours in eliminating hunger. 

In 2015, world leaders agreed to a 2030 deadline for ending global hunger as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – an ambitious plan to tackle poverty, hunger and inequality. In 2017, when we look at our rulers, it seems like efforts to eliminate hunger in Pakistan can’t be completed by a specific deadline.

The lack of education, the prevalence of corruption, the large scale of imports, materialism, the division of agricultural land, the policies of the government and a non-sympathetic attitude are the prime reasons that have made Pakistan food-insecure. Wastage of food is also one of the major reasons of hunger in the country. According to a recent estimate, almost 40 percent of food is wasted in Pakistan. On the one hand, people are dying of hunger and on the other there is an abundance of food that goes to waste.

Food shortage and hunger is a grim reality in the country. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, inflation surged to 3.9 percent in September 2017 as compared with 3.4 percent a month earlier, as per the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The impact of this on the food and beverages category has been particularly devastating for the people as the price of monthly groceries continues to soar. Even items that were once considered a poor man’s staple, such as vegetables and lentils, have become expensive while meat and fish are almost unaffordable.

Malnutrition is badly affecting everyone in the country.  At the highest level, women and children are being victimised. Research indicates that 800,000 children die every year in Pakistan. Around 61 percent children in Pakistan suffer from iron deficiencies, 54 percent from Vitamin A deficiencies, 40 percent from Vitamin D deficiencies and 39 percent from zinc deficiencies. Maternal nutrition is also crucial, not just for a mother’s survival but for her child’s chances of survival and development.

Undernourished women are more likely to die during their pregnancy, give birth prematurely and have babies who are too small for their gestational age. Iron and calcium deficiencies are identified as key contributors to maternal death, putting mothers at an increased risk of anaemia and pre-eclampsia. Maternal iron deficiencies are also found to be associated with a low birth weight.

Hunger can be eliminated. This requires comprehensive efforts to ensure that every man, woman and child enjoy their right to adequate food. Women must be empowered, priority should be 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. It is essential to raise awareness about maintaining a balanced diet, good food habits and healthy living.

Across the globe, many different events are organised to raise awareness about the problems in food supply and distribution and to raise funds to cultivate food plants and ensure the distribution of food. More events conferences, workshops and presentations on food production, distribution and security must be organised. Micro projects should be initiated to help small-scale farmers at the grassroots level. These projects should aim to help farmers become more productive, improve the access of communities to food and increase the income of farmers.

Charitable organisations are playing an excellent role in fulfilling food needs. Their Dastarkhwan services, which are available around the country, have become a lifeline for hundreds of people. Such steps are mandatory in the absence of comprehensive steps and policies taken by the government.

 

The writer is a freelance contributor.

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