Kashif Shamim Siddiqui

“Our world is one of the terrible contradictions. Plenty of food, but one billion people go hungry. Lavish lifestyles for a few, but poverty for too many others. Huge advances in medicine while mothers die every day in childbirth, and children die every day from drinking contaminated water. Billions spent on weapons to kill people instead of keeping them safe.” — Ban Ki-moon.

The former secretary-general of the United Nations had observed, in the past years, a 24-hour fast in solidarity with a billion hungry people worldwide. Indeed, true “words” and “acts” reveal the intentions and internal feelings. If we talk about hunger in Pakistan, true intentions and sincere feelings both seem missing somewhere. Pakistan has 22 percent of its population undernourished. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) celebrates World Food Day every year on October 16. FAO had estimated that 37.5 million people in Pakistan are not receiving proper nourishment. The issue is complex and widespread, with deficiencies ranging from protein to iodine, along with other health problems due to insufficient intake of these essential nutrients.

According to the Global Food Security Index 2016, out of 113 countries, Pakistan ranks at 78th with a score of 47.8, though it improved from a previous alarming hunger level among developing countries, Pakistan still performed worse than most of its South Asian neighbours in eliminating hunger. In 2015, world leaders agreed a 2030 deadline for ending global hunger as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - an ambitious plan for tackling poverty, hunger and inequality. Today in 2017, when we look at our leaders, it feels that hunger in Pakistan would not have any deadline to be ended.

Lack of education, corruption, large scale of Import, materialism, division of agriculture land, policies of the government and non-sympathetic behaviours can be considered as prime reasons for making Pakistan “food insecure”. Wastage of food is also one of the major reasons of hunger in our country. According to estimation, almost 40 percent of food is wasted in Pakistan. On one side, people are dying due to hunger, and on the other, there is an abundance of food that goes to waste.

Food shortage and hunger is a grim reality of our country. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), the inflation indicator surged to 3.9 percent in September 2017 as against 3.4 percent a month earlier, Measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The impact of this on the food and beverages category is devastating for the common man as the price of monthly groceries soars. Even items that were once considered a poor man’s staple like vegetables and lentils have become expensive while meat and fish are almost unaffordable.

Malnutrition badly affecting each gender of the country. At the highest level, women and children are being victimised. Every year, 800,000 children die in Pakistan. 61 percent children in Pakistan suffered from iron deficiency anaemia, 54 percent from Vitamin A deficiency, 40 percent from Vitamin D deficiency and 39 percent from zinc deficiency. Maternal nutrition is also crucial not just for the mother's own survival, but for her child's chances of survival and development. Undernourished women are more likely to die in pregnancy, to give birth prematurely, and to have babies who are too small for their gestational age. Iron and calcium deficiency are identified as key contributors to maternal death, putting mothers at increased risk of anaemia and pre-eclampsia; maternal iron deficiency is also found to be associated with low birth weight.

Hunger can be eliminated in our lifetimes, this requires comprehensive efforts to ensure that every man, woman and child enjoy their Right to Adequate Food; women are empowered; priority is 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. We have to raise awareness about balanced diet, food habits and healthy living. Across the globe, many different events are organised to raise awareness of problems in food supply and distribution and to raise money for cultivation of food plants and the distribution of food. Similarly, we need to organise symposia, conferences, workshops and presentations of particular issues like food production, distribution and security. There should also be micro-projects to help small-scale farmers at the grassroots level. The projects aim to help farmers be more productive and improve both local communities’ access to food and farmers’ cash income.

Some charitable organisation are playing excellent role in fulfilling the food needs. Their free food “Dastarkhwan” services available around the cities of the country have become a lifeline for hundreds of people. Such steps are mandatory for rest of the hungry humans too, in the absence of comprehensive steps and policies taken by the government.

The writer is a poet & former student of Economics at Karachi University.