Two of the biggest South Asian nations —Pakistan and India started their economic journey around the same time after gaining Independence. To my surprise, there was a point in the 1960s when Pakistan’s per capita GDP used to be higher than that of India’s. However, over the years, India has not only surpassed Pakistan’s per capita GDP but has taken a commanding lead on almost every economic forum but Pakistani citizens are forced to confront the harsh reality of extreme poverty.
Pakistan may have South Asia’s second-largest economy but it fares considerably worse than its neighbours when it comes to deal poverty.
Out of the total of 113 countries in the Global Food Security Index of 2016, Pakistan ranked 78th. The country scored 47.8, lagging behind longtime rival India and several other African countries.
According to the World Food Programme, 43 per cent of Pakistan’s population faces food insecurity. Of this number, 18 per cent of people in Pakistan severely lack access to food. This is linked to the fact that most of these people are heavily dependent on agriculture for a living.
Pakistan has one of the most malnourished and poorest regions in the world. Which is the Tharparkar region in the Sindh province. Most of the region is desert land, with the majority of inhabitants depending on seasonal rainfall.
In the province of Sindh, 50 per cent of children below 5 years old are stunted and 19 per cent are severely malnourished. The region’s intense food insecurity stems from the lack of investment in the infrastructure and population coupled with the flood that hit Sindh especially hard.
Pakistan ranked 106 out of 119 countries on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) with a score of 32.6, second only to Afghanistan in the region. The GHI is calculated according to four primary indicators: the proportion of the malnourished population, the frequency of child mortality, stuntedness of children and height to weight ratios of children.
Agriculture in Pakistan is riddled with corruption. In September 2009, the government announced the “Benazir Tractor Scheme”. It was presented to the masses as a random computerized lottery that would award tractors to randomly selected small-scale farmers across the country. However, it turned out that the winners suspiciously already had large acres of land and some were relatives of the parliamentarians.
Most of the budget is spent on issues of national security, rather than fighting hunger. Islamabad devoted $2 billion to security expenditures at a time when many poor Pakistanis were suffering the effects of sky-high inflation.
The number of malnourished Pakistanis has increased since the early 1990s from 24 million to 45 million in 2008. Most of the population is suspected to be extremely lacking both Vitamin A and Vitamin D consumption due to fish, egg yolk and cod liver being in short supply.
Pakistan has also been heavily dependent on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which has demanded from the country to cut back on public spending in the 1980s, which affected food subsidies.
There is an organization called Action Against Hunger that is working to fight food insecurity in Pakistan by addressing malnutrition and mitigating the effects and causes of hunger. They ran the Woman and Infant/Child Improved Nutrition in Sindh in 2017 as well as operating outpatient therapeutic programs in Daud, Khairpir, Matiari and Ghotki districts.
Pakistan does have a long way to go before fully addressing the extent of the problem but it certainly has the impetus and ability to change the way it prioritizes food insecurity and hunger.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has further brought the economy to an almost standstill. This has forced the government of Pakistan to cut down on its spending. When a country’s economy shrinks, the government stops funding many welfare programs. Consequently, the people at the margins of poverty suffer, further increasing poverty in Pakistan.