By: Noman Hossain, Freelance Journalist
Two United Nations bodies have foreseen acute food insecurity in Pakistan that is likely to further exacerbate in the coming months if the economic and political crisis further worsens, compounding the effects of the 2022 floods. Along with neighbouring Afghanistan, it is declared an “early warning hotspot.”
Warnings on Pakistan and Afghanistan, the landlocked neighbour that depends heavily on Pakistan for its food supplies, have come in a report jointly published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Progra¬mme (WFP) covering the June to November 2023 period.
Besides a raging political turmoil that is refusing to abate, Pakistan’s much-sought International Monetary Fund (IMF) financial bailout has been delayed for the last seven months. It has to pay USD 77.5 billion over the next three years. The repayment amount is “substantial” considering the country’s GDP of $350bn in 2021.
“The political crisis and civil unrest are likely to worsen ahead of general elections scheduled for October 2023, amid growing insecurity in the northwest of the country. A shortage of foreign reserves and a depreciating currency are diminishing the country’s ability to import essential food items and energy supplies and increasing food items’ prices besides causing nat-ionwide energy cuts,” the report says.
Over 8.5 million people in Pakistan are likely to experience acute food insecurity between September and December 2023. In Afghanistan, 70 percent of people do not get two proper meals a day. Economic and political crises are reducing households’ purchasing power and ability to buy food and other essential goods, it notes.
It also notes that Afghanistan’s coal and food export revenues could drop if the economic and political crisis in Pakistan — Kabul’s main trading partner — and the security situation in border areas continue to deteriorate.
Afghanistan has turned insular since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, forcing their women to stay at home. None in the world has recognised the new government. In Pakistan’s case, instability has worsened the economy since politicians, the judiciary and the all-powerful army are clashing with each other.
While political wrangles rage in public, in the law courts and on the streets, Pakistan does not have the money to secure food imports on ships anchored at its ports. This has resulted in shortages of even bare necessities like wheat flour for the daily bread.
The Diplomat journal reported (May 2, 2023) that in March-April, the Pakistan government set up distribution sites across the country to provide sasta aur muft aata (low-cost and free flour) to people to ease their burden amid spiralling prices and the ongoing economic crisis in the country. But instead of doing good, the initiative caused trouble in several places where stampedes broke out, killing and injuring people.
“Pakistanis are putting their lives at risk to collect something as basic as a sack of flour. It illustrates how the rising cost of food and other necessities is driving desperation and impacting the masses,” Mariyam Suleman Anees, a development specialist from Gwadar, Balochistan province, wrote.
She asked: “When the recent stampedes over food flooded social media, so did the deeper questions: How did the country end up here? What does this economic crisis mean for the majority of the Pakistani people and for Pakistan’s international projects, especially those with China under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which Pakistan considers vital for its future economic growth?”
Although the Chinese government and commercial banks have helped Pakistan by deferring debt repayment or rolling over debts in the past, “it is hard to predict if China will continue to do so.”
Anees warns: “Instead of the promised economic growth through CPEC, China’s loans may have worsened Pakistan’s economic crisis. But it is still too early to conclude whether CPEC debts will drain the Pakistani economy or open up opportunities for growth in the future.
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