68% Pakistanis cannot afford healthy meals says World Bank official

Pakistan has a serious level of hunger as it ranked  88th in the Global Hunger Index 2020

 “Currently, 68 percent of Pakistan’s population is unable to afford a healthy diet,” said Namesh Nazar, an Agricultural Economist at the World Bank. Wholesome food has gone out of majority of Pakistanis reach as runaway food inflation continues to challenge government’s writ as well as policies, she said.

She was highlighting how food inflation could lead to heightened food insecurity and malnutrition at the sixth webinar in the Pakistan Development Policy Series (PDPS) 2021 last week.

Organised by Consortium for Development Policy Research (CDPR) in collaboration with the World Bank, the moot focused on the nature of food price inflation in Pakistan, especially in the fresh produce, milk, and meat markets.

World Bank’s Nazar added that additionally, high food inflation could reduce consumers’ purchasing power, especially consumers from poor households with fewer resources to spend on other essential goods, such as healthcare and education.

Pakistan ranks 88th out of 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index while food security and nutrition crisis is expected to worsen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic because country has a serious hunger level. Among countries in the developing world, Pakistan faces one of the most severe crises of malnutrition, which is the fundamental cause of child morbidity and mortality.

Pakistan lags far behind almost all countries in the region in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) – a tool that gauges undernourishment, stunting and weight of children to assign scores.

“In the 2020 Global Hunger Index, Pakistan ranks 88th out of 107 countries with sufficient data to calculate 2020 GHI scores,” said a report. “With a score of 24.6, Pakistan has a level of hunger that is serious.”

With a score of 24.6, Pakistan has a level of hunger that is categorised as serious. In comparison, Bangladesh ranks 75th out of the 107 countries with a score of 20.4, falling in the category of serious while Iran ranks 39th out of the 107 countries with a score of 7.9, having low category.

The report highlights that the worsening food and nutrition security situation retarded human and economic development and carried the risk of jeopardizing national security if it was not tackled well by government, private sector, civil society, media, public, communities, and academia and research institutions, the report pointed out.

 “The time to act is NOW, individually, and collectively,” the he warned, and added that the report also identifies key stakeholders and roles they can play in averting this crisis besides laying out stakeholders’ engagement goals and objectives in the next five years.

The highest malnutrition has been seen in Sindh and Balochistan. It is advised to engage the scientists and government officials to jointly see how we can contribute to improve these areas of malnutrition, hunger and food security and agriculture to diversify the economies. The technologies can be introduced in the most affected areas to enhance the economic impact of the societies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated the food and nutrition security situation in Pakistan. Travel restrictions and limitations on the movement of essential goods including food and agricultural inputs, protracted loss of income, and rise in prices have already negatively impacted millions of Pakistanis.

The IMF has predicted a sharp reversal in the declining poverty rates, with 40% of the population below the poverty line after the spread of COVID-19. Moreover, 17 million children under the age of five are missing routine vaccinations, leaving them unprotected and more vulnerable to health risks posed by COVID-19 outbreak’.

The report highlights that globally, far too many individuals are suffering from hunger: nearly 690 million people are undernourished; 144 million children suffer from stunting, a sign of chronic under nutrition; 47 million children suffer from wasting, a sign of acute under nutrition; and in 2018, 5.3 million children died before their fifth birthdays, in many cases as a result of under nutrition.

To better respond to, and indeed to prevent, the report highlight that complex emergency, multilateral institutions, governments, communities, and individuals should use the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises to build safe, resilient food systems. They should review food, health, and economic systems through a One Health lens to chart a path to environmental recovery by investing in sustainable food production, distribution, and consumption.

                                                         Rukhsana Manzoor Deputy Editor


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