FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 3

In search of untainted food

Prime Minister Imran Khan had promised to ensure the provision of pure milk to the people of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where his party rules. A pilot project was also launched in Lahore, but its fate is not known and nobody in the city can claim that they are getting pure milk. It also contains harmful hormones injected to animals to increase their production.

The government, on its part, has taken many steps to curb the sale of substandard and spurious food. The provinces have set up food authorities to check adulteration but they have not been able to obtain desired results. Thousands of litres of tainted milk is destroyed daily but the accused largely remain unpunished and they continue their business. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan, the gross milk production of Pakistan was nearly 62 billion litre in 2019-20. As buffalo milk is thicker, it is easier to mix water in it. People who get milk mixed with clean drinking water are lucky, because it is not as harmful as milk contaminated with river, canal or pond water, a practice used by sellers to preserve the thickness of the commodity.

Alarmingly, the World Bank has also warned that wholesome food has gone out of the reach of the majority of Pakistanis as runaway food inflation continues to challenge the government’s writ as well as policies. Addressing a webinar recently, World Bank (WB) country director for Pakistan Najy Benhassine said, “Over 68pc of Pakistan’s population is unable to afford a healthy diet.” According to estimates, prices of food and beverages have increased by 14.83pc, with urban centers seeing a higher rise (15.3pc) compared to rural areas (12.8pc), between May 2020 and May 2021.

Paradoxically, Pakistan has been ranked as “the cheapest country in the world to live in” with a cost of living index showing 18.58, followed by Afghanistan 24.51, India 25.14 and Syria 25.31, according to the cost of living index by GoBankingRatesCompany. Several organisations have used statistics to determine the cheapest countries to live in. One of these companies is GoBankingRates and it uses four metrics to determine which countries are the most affordable. The metrics used include rent, local purchasing power, consumer price and groceries indices and information compiled is compared to the cost of living in New York City, one of the most expensive cities in the world. However, people of Pakistan believe inflation in the country is the highest in the world.

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the rural extreme poverty rate is five times higher than the urban extreme poverty rate in Pakistan. In its latest report, it said that comparing 2020 to 2019, food inflation increased in 29 of the 41 reporting economies, of which 17 posted food inflation of five percent or higher. The largest increases in food price inflation were observed mostly in lower-middle income economies such as Pakistan (11.3 percentage points), Sri Lanka (10.6 percentage points), the Kyrgyz Republic (10.3 percentage points), and Bhutan (7.8 percentage points). The pandemic pushed an estimated 75 million to 80 million more people in developing Asia into extreme poverty as of last year, compared with what would have happened without the Covid-19. Assuming that the pandemic has increased inequality, the relative rise in extreme poverty-defined as living on less than $1.90 a day-may be even greater. Progress has also stalled in areas such as hunger, health, and education, where earlier achievements across the region had been significant, albeit uneven. According to the report, about 203 million people or 5.2pc of developing Asia’s population lived in extreme poverty as of 2017. Without the Covid-19, that number would have declined to an estimated 2.6pc in 2020.

According to estimates, an average household in Pakistan spends more than a third (nearly 36pc) of its consumption expenditure on food, which is usually impure. Even medicines and water are not pure in Pakistan. According to a Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) report last year, 446 drugs were found spurious from over 200,000 samples collected from medical stores and health facilities in five years. However, the regulatory authority has claimed that the number of spurious medicines has been declining every year after strict action was taken against companies.

It is also a fact that unsafe drinking water claims the highest number of deaths in Pakistan. The discharge of untreated industrial waste, poor sewerage system, agriculture run-off and unplanned urbanisation have downgraded water quality in Pakistan, depriving almost two-thirds of over 200 million Pakistanis of potable water, according to the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA). “One of the most pressing and fundamental health challenges the country faces is the unavailability of clean and safe drinking water. Hepatitis B and C are several times more lethal viral diseases than the coronavirus infection and resulting in around 300 to 325 deaths daily. It is estimated that in Pakistan 30pc of all diseases and 40pc of all deaths are due to poor water quality. Diarrhoea, a waterborne disease, is reported as the leading cause of death in infants and children in Pakistan while every fifth citizen suffers from illness and disease caused by polluted water,” it said in a report.

It is clear that provincial governments have failed to provide clean drinking water to people. They have also not succeeded in ensuring the provision of untainted and wholesome food to their population. They must make laws to ensure harsh punishment to people involved in adulteration.