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Food for Thar


July 18, 2018

Pakistan has to speed up its slow boat to China in a heartbeat to overcome the growing rate of deaths. which occur in the country due to food insecurity and undernourishment.

Nagarparkar’s Umaa Kohli lost her last two children due to undernourishment. She is pregnant again, but is a bit downhearted and dubious regarding the chances of survival of her forthcoming newborn. “What can I do? My husband is a poor labourer; he hardly earns between Rs200 and Rs300 on alternate days, which isn’t enough for our family’s survival. We have no other source of income either. Sometimes we have to sleep on empty stomachs.” The 32-year-old mother broke into tears when someone asked her if she had the courage to see another one of her children die in front of her eyes.

Even after losing two children one after the other, Umaa and her husband Somji have not been able to do anything for the survival of their forthcoming child. They don’t have any means to make themselves economically stable or find a way out of the terrible situation. Pakistan looses thousands of mothers and children under the age of five every year owing to various causes. Alarmingly, most of these deaths occur due to food insecurity and undernourishment.

District Tharparkar is said to be one of the most dangerous regions of the country in terms of people’s survival. Every year, hundreds of people die in the area owing to food insecurity, water scarcity, malnutrition and unavailability of proper healthcare. Poverty is one of the most significant factors affecting the lives of the people in this remote part of the country.

More than 70 percent of Thar’s populace lives in extremely poor conditions. In such awful circumstances, when these empty-stomached mothers give birth to newborns they are mostly found to be underweight, stunted and malnourished.

In Pakistan, there are thousands of mothers like Umaa Kohli who have had to mourn the untimely deaths of their children. These women bear the brunt of a lackadaisical approach of the people who publically take oaths to provide food security, education, productive livelihood and social protection to the people but don’t make any wholehearted endeavours to execute their promises. It is not the people’s fault that they live in one of the country’s remotest regions where food security has become a challenge for the concerned authorities. It is purely the inattention of the governments that is the root cause behind Thar’s dismal situation.

Is it not a matter of extreme concern for all of us, including our policymakers, that as per the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2017, Pakistan ranks 106th – with a 32.6 GHI – among a total of 119 countries? Is this an appropriate way to contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating hunger globally by 2030?

Although Pakistan has done well to reduce its GHI, which used to be 42.7 in the year 1992, the current global statics on hunger demand that we ‘do more’. Besides Pakistan, Afghanistan is the only other South Asian country that has the highest GHI (33.3); it ranks 107th. India ranks 100 with a 31.4 GHI. The recent National Nutrition Survey estimated that 58 percent of the households in Pakistan are food-insecure, and 18 percent of the population is undernourished. What have we done so far to tackle this lethal menace of ever-growing food insecurity?

In the country’s rural regions, people have been living under the threat of losing their only means of livelihood as they don’t have water to cultivate their agricultural lands. Women who are pregnant don’t have anything to eat, which results in them giving birth to undernourished babies, who usually die within a few hours, weeks or months of birth.

In urban areas, it is habitually observed that mothers choose to rely on ordinary market milk for their newborns instead of breastfeeding them. This is why newborns or children under-five years of age mostly become victims of malnourishment.

In its National Development Plan (NDP), namely Vision 2025, Pakistan has termed its population as its greatest asset and seeks to perk up human and social capital, food security and nutrition. All the future plans and frameworks can only be effective if the government considers itself responsible for providing basic human needs to the people. If Pakistan works strategically in light of the NDP as well as the UN’s Sustainable Development Framework, it would attain the set objectives in time. Support should be provided to the mothers and newborns.

In the recently announced budget, the previous government allocated Rs10 billion to combat child-stunting. Although the step is encouraging, it is not enough to disentangle the Gordian knot completely. The government had allocated funds for the same cause in the previous budgets too, but what happened of those funds? Where were they utilised? No one knows.

We have been receiving foreign aid through non-governmental agencies to eradicate hunger, and they have implemented a variety of projects in this particular area throughout the country, but the outcomes they have achieved can be gauged through the increasing number of deaths due to hunger. We typically make plans with a positive intent, but when it comes to implementation we fail to turn the same planning into a success story.

It is hard to spell out the gist of the people’s sentiments, especially of the women, who have been suffering due to food insecurity, malnutrition, unproductive livelihoods and social injustice. Instead of shedding crocodile tears we should admit that we have intentionally turned a deaf ear to the painful cries of the mothers begging for the lives of their offspring to be saved.

The writer is a freelance contributor and social activist based in Badin, Sindh.

Email: [email protected]

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