The floods sweeping across Pakistan have caused widespread destruction, ruined livelihoods, displaced millions, and sparked a food crisis. Food prices have skyrocketed across the country as miles of farmland succumb to the deluge, including 1.5 million hectares in Punjab province
, Pakistan’s breadbasket and agricultural heartland.
Food insecurity is now rife across the country — yet even before the floods, millions of Pakistanis struggled to access food. Back in 2008, the UN estimated that 77 million Pakistanis were hungry and 45 million malnourished. And while many developing nations have begun to recover from the global food crisis of 2007-08, Pakistan’s food fortunes have remained miserable. Throughout 2010, Pakistan’s two chief food staples, rice and wheat, have cost 30 to 50 percent times more than they did before the global food crisis. Drought, rampant water shortages, and conflict have intensified food insecurity in Pakistan in recent months.
A new edited book volume published by the Wilson Center’s Asia Program, Hunger Pains: Pakistan’s Food Insecurity, examines the country’s food insecurity. The book has already been the subject of a news story and an editorial in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. The book, edited by Michael Kugelman and Robert M. Hathaway, is based on the 2009 Wilson Center conference of the same name. It assesses food supply challenges, access issues, governance constraints, social and structural dimensions, gender and regional disparities, and international responses.
The book makes a range of recommendations. These include:
Limited hard copies of the book are available. To request a copy, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Declare hunger a national security issue. Since some of Pakistan’s most food-insecure regions lie in militant hotbeds, hunger should be linked to defense, and food provision projects should be given ample public funding.
- Diversify the crop mix so that Pakistan’s agricultural economy revolves around more than wheat and rice. The country should accord more resources to crops that are less water-intensive and more nutritious.
- Give schools a central focus in food aid and food distribution. Using schools as a venue for food distribution gives parents powerful incentives to send their children to school.
- Tackle the structural dimensions. Strengthening agricultural institutions, improving infrastructure and storage facilities, and injecting capital into a stagnant farming sector are all key to making Pakistan more food-secure. Yet unless Pakistan deals with poverty, landlessness, and entrenched political interests in agriculture, food insecurity will remain.
Michael Kugelman is program associate with the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Photo Credit: “Chitarl, Pakistan” where floods damaged the way over Lawari pass and killed five in August 2006. Courtesy of flickr user groundreporter