FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 06

Food for thought

Pakistan’s ranking on the Global Hunger Index is decreasing consistently with every assessment, though it is still better placed than its archrival India. In the 2019 index, Pakistan ranks 94th out of 117 qualifying countries, with a score of 28.5, which means it suffers from a level of hunger that is serious.
Pakistan’s ranking on the Global Hunger Index is constantly on the decline with scores of 38.3 in 2000, 37 in 2005, 36 in 2010 and 32.6 in 2018. Latest poverty estimates show that 24pc of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line. If the rot is not stopped, Pakistan will face serious challenges to feed its growing population in future.
The index is based on four indicators: undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality. Central African Republic topped the index as aid agencies warned that climate change was making it increasingly hard to feed the world. Aid agency Concern Worldwide, which co-compiles the Global Hunger Index, said progress towards a 2030 zero hunger target agreed by world leaders was “under threat or is being reversed”. Hunger levels in CAR, driven by violence since 2013, are “extremely alarming”, while levels in Chad, Madagascar, Yemen, and Zambia are “alarming”, according to the index released on the eve of World Food Day. Another 43 of the 117 countries ranked in the index had “serious” hunger levels.
Declining poverty and increased funding for nutrition initiatives have helped reduce global hunger since 2000, but there is still a long way to go, the report said. Nine countries of concern had higher scores than in 2010 – CAR, Madagascar, Venezuela, Yemen, Jordan, Malaysia, Mauritania, Lebanon and Oman. Concern CEO Dominic MacSorley said about 45 countries were unlikely to achieve low levels of hunger by 2030. “Conflict, inequality, and the effects of climate change have all contributed to persistently high levels of hunger and food insecurity around the world,” he said.
Worldwide, the number of undernourished people – those who lack regular access to adequate calories – rose to 822 million last year from 785 million in 2015, with the greatest increase in sub-Saharan countries affected by conflict and drought. Former Irish President Mary Robinson said the figures showed that the 2030 global development goals agreed in 2015 and the Paris climate agreement could no longer be seen as voluntary. Both must be fully implemented “in order to secure a livable world for our children and grandchildren”, she said in a foreword to the report. “This requires a change of mindset at the global political level.” Concern Worldwide and German aid agency Welthungerhilfe, co-publisher of the index, said there was a strong correlation between high hunger scores and vulnerability to climate change.
The report said the number of extreme weather-related disasters had doubled since the early 1990s, reducing crop yields and contributing to food price hikes. Nine countries of concern were omitted due to lack of data, including Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria. The report called for more ambitious action to reduce climate change risks to food security as well as improving disaster preparation and response, and transforming food production and consumption, especially in high-income countries.
In comparison with Pakistan’s 94, India was ranked 102 among 117 countries in the hunger index. Its ranking dropped down not just in comparison to Pakistan but also with reference to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, which stood at 88th and 66th position, respectively. India is among 45 countries that have serious levels of hunger. “In India, just 9.6 percent of all children between six and 23 months of age are fed a minimum acceptable diet. As of 2015-2016, 90 percent of Indian households used an improved drinking water source while 39 percent of households had no sanitation facilities,” the report noted and pointed out that open defecation was still practiced in India.
In a report released few weeks ago, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said Pakistan was among three Asian countries where the rate of undernourishment due to poverty was the highest. The highest rates of undernourishment in 2017 were observed in Afghanistan (29.8pc), Timor-Leste (24.9pc), and Pakistan (20.3pc), the ADB reported in the 50th edition of its annual statistical report, “Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2019.” It said the prevalence of undernourishment in the total population was below 10pc in 26 of the 37 reporting economies, compared with only 14 of 37 in 2000.
According to a report of United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the rates of reducing undernourishment in Asia and the Pacific have slowed significantly in recent years, risking progress toward the SDG target to eradicate hunger by 2030. The prevalence of stunting in Pakistan witnessed a meager improvement since 2000 as the rate of stunting among children under the age of five years has fallen from 42pc in 2000 to 37pc in 2017. In Asia, the prevalence of stunting has fallen since 2000 in more than 85pc of developing member economies for which data are available. Poor food security and severe malnutrition have led to millions of Asian and Pacific islander children being stunted (i.e., too short for their age). The prevalence of stunting in children below the age of 5 years exceeded 25pc in 15 of the 30 developing member economies with available data for 2016.
Almost half of Balochistan’s households face mild to severe food insecurity, according to a report released by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) few months ago. Alarmingly, of the 36.9pc food insecure households in the country, 18.3pc face severe food insecurity. According to the SBP, almost a quarter of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line, set at Rs3,030.3 per adult equivalent per month. It means that around 50 million people in the country are unable to meet their basic needs. Most of these people live in rural areas where the poverty rate is 30.7pc. In its third quarterly report on the state of the economy, the central bank noted provincial disparities in terms of food security in Pakistan. In Balochistan, at least 30pc households experience hunger on a chronic basis. On the other hand, Gilgit-Baltistan has the most food secure households, nearly 80pc in the region, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (70pc). Only 63.1pc of the country’s households are “food secure” despite the fact that Pakistan is self-sufficient in major staples. More worryingly, almost half of the children under five years are stunted and one in ten has been suffering from low-weight-for height.
Experts say a high population growth rate and unfavourable water and climatic conditions in the country mean that concerns about food security may increase manifold over the next two to three decades. Recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan has launched the Ehsaas-Saylani Langar Scheme, a project to offer free meal to the destitute in partnership with a charity organisation. The government will have to make more serious efforts to feed the rising number of the poor.