Hunger in Pakistan has killed many people and affected the lives of many more, especially children. After a drought hit the Tharparkar district of Pakistan’s southern Sindh Province earlier this year, at least 132 young children died, many as a result of malnutrition.
The problem of hunger in Pakistan is not limited to Sindh Province, however. While Sindh certainly has the highest rates of malnutrition and least access to food, Pakistan’s National Nutrition Survey reported that 58 percent of all Pakistani households were food-insecure.
Malnutrition is also widespread; the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey found that 24 percent of Pakistani children under 5 exhibited “severely stunted growth.”
Why is hunger such a prevalent issue in Pakistan? Some of it has to do with past inflation of wheat prices in the late 2000s, as it was more difficult for people to afford domestic grain. Infrastructural difficulty, such as providing electricity to flour mills, also poses a problem.
Still, the largest factor causing food insecurity in Pakistan is the nation’s own government and its policies that hinder food production and distribution.
Take, for example, the deaths from the drought: the government did not work to distribute food until after the crisis. As the Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network reports, “the government didn’t act until [it received] reports of children dying” last December, even though animals had been dying since October and rainfall was decreasing. Moreover, government-run hospitals and clinics in the region have been constantly understaffed, making it difficult to get medical care to those who needed it.
Other government policies affect all of Pakistan, not just Sindh. Under the Corporate Farming Ordinance, the Pakistani government leases large tracts of land to foreign investors looking to stockpile crops for their own countries. This takes valuable land away from local farmers while keeping the food away from Pakistani citizens that need it.
The government of Pakistan seems to prioritize profits over its people. During the inflation of wheat prices in 2008, the government increased its wheat exports, depriving many hungry people of food. Even today, much of the wheat that large corporate mills produce leaves the country.
In reality, Pakistan should be capable of providing its citizens with enough food to survive, and there should not be as much food insecurity as there is now. Arif Jabbar Khan, Oxfam’s Pakistan director, affirmed that “missing public policy action and persistent economic inequalities are the main causes of malnutrition,” not droughts or famine.
How can hunger and malnutrition be reduced in Pakistan? Foreign aid providers may be able to earmark funds for the redistribution of grain to poorer areas, and this aid could be cut if the government does not comply.
Nevertheless, political pressure to change food distribution policy must come from within Pakistan itself. The citizens of Pakistan must demand change and hold elected officials responsible for their actions in the polls if the system is to be fixed.
— Ted Rappleye