Monday, March 29, 2010

Struggling Below the Poverty Line

Life is not easy for millions of people living in urban and rural areas of Pakistan. The country is witnessing a worse energy crisis of all times, which has resulted in low industrial productivity, down turned economy, high inflation rate and high incidence of poverty. Similarly, unemployment is on the rise and more and more people find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty.  

According to the State Bank of Pakistan’s Annual Report 2009, approximately 70 million people live below the poverty line in Pakistan. This implies that their daily earning is less than one dollar a day (80 Pakistani Rupees). This incidence of poverty is at least six times higher than that of 1999. This is also reflective of the fact that Pakistan is far behind in accomplishing the millennium development goal of reducing the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day.

Less rainfall and the continuous drought like situation in the country is also adding to this high occurrence of poverty. The aftermath of less rainfall is the reduction in the yield of the agricultural produce such as wheat, which is the main staple food of the country. Consequently, this year the price of essential commodities, such as flour and sugar, has increased at least 80 % and 152 % respectively.

Despite this price hike, there is no rise in people’s monthly income. The escalated food prices have a severe impact on people’s buying capacity of essential food items. People’s purchasing capacity has decreased manifold as compared to the past. According to an estimate; today people spend more than 50 % of their monthly income on buying essential food commodities. As a result of sky rocketing food prices and low buying capacity of people, the food insecurity is also on rise.

Based on the prevalent food insecurity in Pakistan, the International Food Policy Research Institute has ranked Pakistan at number 61, out of 88 countries, on Global Hunger Index 2009.  This ranking suggests that in Pakistan, the number of malnourished children, calorie deficient people and child mortality are ‘alarming’ with widespread food insecurity problems ( hunger, poverty, malnourishment, undernourishment etc)  prevalent in 95 districts ( 79 % of total 121 districts) of Pakistan.

In such a scenario where people spend a major portion of their meager income on buying food items or when they do not have enough money to feed themselves and their families, other basic necessities such as education and health needs of the family, particularly of girls and women, are completely ignored. Instead of investing more on food insecurity, health and education; the government has downsized its Public Sector Development programs by 40 % to address its growing security needs resulting from the spread of terrorism in the country.

Rather than cutting down Public Sector Development Programs, the Government of Pakistan needs to invest more on programs and projects with a focus on poverty reduction, food insecurity, health and education. Additionally government should also provide appropriate safety-nets to the poor and vulnerable to help them mitigate the negative impacts of soaring food prices and poverty.

Given the grim picture of state of affairs pertaining to increase in poverty and food insecurity, the role of organizations such as World Food Programme becomes crucial. In partnership with the government and its various other cooperating partners (NGOs), WFP is not only addressing the short-term hunger needs of the poor and vulnerable communities but its food assistance is also contributing toward increasing girls’ primary schools enrollment as well as promoting safe motherhood across Pakistan.

However, to help those struggling below the poverty line in Pakistan and across the world, WFP needs your support and action. To find out how you can help WFP, please click here..

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