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And now food insecurity

EDITORIAL: It is incredible that a country like Pakistan, which is naturally endowed with abundant staple food crop,...

Jun 29 2020

EDITORIAL: It is incredible that a country like Pakistan, which is naturally endowed with abundant staple food crop, has 37 percent of its population affected by food insecurity. Speakers at a recent interactive seminar on food security also pointed out, to nobody's surprise, that this mess is primarily due to "hoarding and smuggling". This is not something that has been suddenly triggered by the Coronavirus pandemic, rather it is a problem took many years in the making. That one in every three people is effectively malnourished means bread winners are unable to work properly, children are born stunted, or grow up anaemic and with many deficiencies, there is very high child mortality, and the future labour force is also compromised. Since we are also a country with a very high population growth rate and one of the worst affected by climate change, this particular problem is only going to grow with time. And with the pandemic already threatening very grim scenarios, like economic collapse, rising unemployment and poverty, and widespread social unrest, it is surely going to exacerbate food insecurity as well.

This news could not have come at a worse time. Practically, all leading international trade and relief organisations like the UN are screaming about the very real prospect of unprecedented famine sweeping the world because the Coronavirus has devastated supply chains. Countries that are already on the edge, because their own people ravaged their most productive sectors and their governments allowed it, will be utterly devastated in the worst case scenario. And one thing about hunger-driven riots is that even the people that are adequately supplied are no longer safe because of the looting that follows; for very understandable reasons. In such circumstances places with a comparative advantage in food would have had a natural advantage and the ability to shield their people from the worst kind of food shortages. Yet here we stand, having allowed a third of our population to be deprived of something as basic as food even though we are flush with it.

The government clearly has its work cut out for it. All its strategies to combat the pandemic have focused on protecting the most vulnerable segments of society from starvation; and of course getting the economy going like every other country. But now we face a situation where even the best and most sincere efforts might go waste simply because our own internal systems are so badly broken. The cancer at the heart of most of Pakistan's problems is unchecked corruption. Over the years it has eaten up state resources, crippled the economy and pushed much of the hard working middle class out of the country. Now it threatens people's food as well. Unless something is done about this urgently, we would be guilty of literally killing so many of our own people for no reason at all.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020