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November 14, 2019

Beyond reach


November 14, 2019

Inflation, notably in the prices of vegetables, in the country has reached unprecedented levels. Over the last week, inflation of nearly 289 percent in the prices of at least 43 edible items created an average increase of just over 19 percent. People in Karachi and other cities including Lahore have suddenly found that essential vegetables used for cooking cannot be accessed. In Karachi, tomatoes now cost between Rs250 and Rs280 per kg and onions – vital ingredient for any food item cooked in Pakistani homes – are being sold at Rs200 per kg. There has also been an extraordinary increase of up to 22 percent in the costs of garlic, potato, ghee, eggs, pulses, chicken and other edible items over a mere week. Naturally, there has been no matching rise in the wages paid to people. The middle class, lower middle class and all salaried persons are finding it impossible to plan what to cook in their homes. After all, they cannot live on wheat flour alone, the prices of which have also gone up in the domestic market but at a less drastic rate.

As shocking as the insane prices is the lack of information (some would say apathy) of ministers and key persons in the government over the price hike. Special Advisor on Finance to the Prime Minister Dr Hafeez Shaikh recently said on a talk show that tomatoes cost a mere Rs17 per kg in Karachi. We all wish that we lived in the same Pakistan Dr Shaikh inhabits. Those of us who live outside that Pakistan pay multiple times that amount and can only question the indifference to price of those in power. Quite obviously, despite the drive against corruption, costs matter nothing to persons who have gathered enormous wealth, perhaps through honest means.

The situation according to a report in this publication has arisen because the first item of every cabinet meeting of the past, a review by the Economic Coordination Committee of food price inflation, has been taken off the list. The reasons for this measure are unclear. In a country where one third of the population lives below the poverty line and unemployment continues to soar, inflation is obviously a huge concern. People depend on the government to control it and make it possible for them to survive and sustain lives. The government it appears has little interest in this. The ‘critical markets’ set up in Lahore have had no impact in Lahore and prices recommended by the government are simply ignored by the vendors. The result is complete chaos, complete anarchy and enormous misery for the vast majority of people in the country whose kitchens essentially no longer run and some of whom can simply find nothing to eat or to feed their children.

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