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April 8, 2021

No shock-proofing policies

Business

April 8, 2021

LAHORE: Economic planners need to address the vulnerability of the poor to external and internal shocks as this population stands to lose everything in the face of an untoward development like Covid outbreak among others.

For more than seven decades they have been somehow surviving both natural and manmade disasters (incompetent policy makers). They established their resilience by braving earthquakes and floods. They survived numerous economic recessions that annihilated the small assets built during years of economic growth. This time around they have been devastated like never before. First they braved the most severe 30 months of recession in our history followed immediately by three waves of Covid-19 each successive wave more dangerous than the earlier.

In earlier natural disasters the damage was limited to some regions of the country, while the remaining regions operated as usual. The earthquake in 2005 was severe but limited to the northern region of the country and did not hurt the industrial base of the country. The unaffected population rushed in along with the state and the international agencies to lend a hand in rehabilitation. During floods as well the affected populations are looked after by the unaffected regions and the state. Covid-19 is a disaster that has engulfed the entire country. There is no cover from the deadly virus. The idea of herd immunity has failed and infection as well as death rate in the ongoing third wave has been very high. Covid-19 treatment cost is very high for the rich and out of reach for the poor. The accompanied prolonged weakness to the cured patients has reduced their productivity and hence income by 50 percent or more.

Vulnerable populations are minimally resilient to shocks, whether caused by humans or natural disasters. Three years of economic recession coupled with high inflation particular in food prices has created food and nutrition insecurity among the poor that account for almost one-third of the population. In real terms we are talking about the plight of over 70 million people. The Covid-19 added insult to the injury. The situation would have been less alarming had the state managed food price volatility through better governance.

Pakistan is an agricultural country. Most of the food consumed by its population is grown in the country. Yet we have the largest percentage of stunted child growth in South Asia. Majority of women, even those belonging to the middle class suffer from anemia. Food and nutrition security are achieved when enough nutritious food is available where it is needed. And it is accessible and affordable to those who need it. Judicial use of this food is also important as it ensures sufficient nourishment to the consumers. Addressing hunger is not a one-time job. Vulnerable population needs sufficient food intake all the time. Under-nutrition and deficiencies of vitamins and minerals increase the morbidity and mortality among the poor. It is happening right now.

Poor people are the least prepared for any external (flood, earthquake) or internal shocks (health issues, injury to bread earner or unemployment). They lack the capacity to manage risks and cope with shocks. In Pakistan the vulnerable population exists in both rural and urban regions. These include small landholders in agriculture or the landless farmers. The persons displaced by natural disasters like floods are among highly vulnerable segments of society. These vulnerable groups need different solutions. But one common thing is the food and nutrition security, as vulnerability exists when shocks compromise the sustainable availability, accessibility, or utilisation of the food supply.

Smallholders and their families are especially vulnerable to climate change. Addressing the longer-term problem of chronic hunger and malnutrition, would require political, economic, legal, and social innovation, as well as systemic change. Development investments are required to help poor and vulnerable groups build capacity, manage shocks, and develop resilience to future shocks. It is imperative to address food price spikes and volatility and increase attention on social protection on an emergency basis.

Emerging economies such as Brazil, China, and India are expanding their investments in agriculture while we have put it on back burner. We have not invested in agriculture and its research for over three decades. Scaling up investments in disaster-risk reduction makes economic sense, as they have higher returns than either relief operations or the provision of humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of disaster. Risk assessments and cost-benefit analyses relating to specific projects can produce insights for policymakers.

In order to reduce the risks of food and nutrition insecurity among vulnerable populations, rural and urban poor people must have access to instruments that not only help them manage risks and respond to shocks in the short-term. Their participation in policymaking would improve their resilience and promote their food security in the long run.

Agricultural market risks and shocks can be reduced through promoting access to key services such as insurance and finance. Equally important, however, are investments to enhance sustainable food productivity.