The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor
How is news determined? This question is highly pertinent. While statements by politicians continue to make news, we need to ask what our real concerns are, and why we are so indifferent to the true needs of people.
The reality depicted on television screens really has very little to do with the lives and priorities of citizens. In fact the agenda used to set news has distorted the way we look at our world and determine what is happening within it.
The endless talk shows on television simply distract people from issues far larger than the misdeeds of politicians. It is true mis-governance has a great deal to do with the condition of these people, but it is this situation too that has persisted decade after decade that needs to be highlighted and brought into the mainstream of life.
Otherwise we will get nowhere at all, no matter what efforts charities, individuals or other organisations make at their own level.
Here are some facts. In our country, a continuous deterioration in the food security situation over the past three years means people have been living in a gravely food insecure condition since 2009.
If we accept that food is the most basic need of life, we might begin to comprehend the magnitude of the situation.
Memogate, the NRO case and all else mean little to those whose main worry is putting together a meal; and this should be a worry for others too.
The crisis continues to worsen. According to Edhi Foundation, there has been a visible increase in the number of people who turn up at its free feeding centres.
The charitable foundation-largest in the country-provides free food to thousands daily. Those who work there claim that today even people from the ‘middle-class’ come for food, sitting down quietly at the centres and keeping their eyes cast down.
Yet all this does not make media headlines. Indeed we rarely hear of it-taking the news of the occasional suicide caused by poverty in our stride, ignoring figures that show a yearly increase in suicides rates.
Most of us barely think about what hunger means, or how it affects people. Unlike flooding or an earthquake, it is an insidious, invisible crisis. Or perhaps then we simply choose not to look.
In a December 2011 report, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) stated: “out of 56 million people living in Pakistan’s urban areas, about 21 million are now deemed food insecure.
“Majority of the rural population is facing food insecurity including malnutrition, under nutrition, hunger, etc. The population consuming less than 1700 calories per day, which is far below the international levels, has increased from 35 million to 45 million during last couple of years.”
In an April 2012 report, SBP reported that 37 percent of the urban population was food insecure and warned the government to “reduce the risk of a severe hunger-like situation.” These figures suggest a consistent rise in hunger.
A 2009 report on food insecurity in Pakistan, prepared by the World Food Programme, the Islamabad-based Sustainable Policy Development Institute (SDPI) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation had found that countrywide, 48.6 percent of the population was food insecure and 22.4 percent was “extremely” food insecure.
Experts believe that the situation has become worse for people since 2009, mainly due to rapid price increases. In view of the indicators coming in, and in order to devise future policy, the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, WFP and SDPI are now conducting a new Food Security Analysis for 2012, in collaboration with the FAO and UNICEF.
The 2011 National Nutrition Survey found that 58 percent of the households were food insecure. It also notes widespread child malnutrition, with women also badly hit.
The cost of consumer items, as indicated by the Consumer Price Index maintained by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, rose by 9.6 percent in July 2012 as compared to the same month the previous year. The State Bank of Pakistan has also noted a consistent inflationary trend since 2011.
Government programmes, including the Rs. 1,000 stipend offered by the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) to millions of families, may make at least some difference to a few people.
But people remain acutely concerned about their situation and unconvinced by government schemes. Flaws and obstacles of many kinds have been reported.
The degree of hunger is reflected in global studies. The Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in its’ Global Hunger Index for 2011 notes the hunger situation in Pakistan remains ‘alarming’ as was the case last year.
The index is based on three factors: malnutrition, child underweight levels and child mortality. Ratings run from 0 to 100 percent hunger, with no country falling in either extreme category.
Pakistan has a hunger rating between 20 and 29 percent. The report notes that hunger in Pakistan has grown over the last decade. While there is enough food, people lack the purchasing power to obtain it.
The present situation has compelled individuals to step in. Parveen Saeed, a housewife who began a small-scale food provision programme in Karachi called ‘khana ghar’ (house of food) in 2002 after reading about a woman who had killed her children rather than watching them starve, is among them.
But people like Parveen can only help a few. Eventually it is the state that needs to take responsibility for the state of its citizens, and there is no evidence at all that it has the will or commitment to do so. The lack of pressure from the media or other lobby groups makes it easier for it to do so.
The government and the state must not be allowed to get away with this. Solutions are required, strategy needs to be re-thought and the whole structure rattled.
Development has to be made a key concern, issues linked to it have to be made a priority, otherwise we will see a population fading further and further into misery, with indifference to their plight from most quarters.
This article was originally published at: The News
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.