Sunday, August 07, 2011

Lest we forget

The floods that struck Pakistan starting in July 2010 represented one of the most destructive natural disasters of our times, submerging almost one-fifth of the country – an area the size of Greece – killing 2000 people, affecting 20 million and destroying 1.6 million homes. Damage to agriculture – the basic livelihood for 80 percent of the affected population – was estimated at over than $5.1 billion, including the loss of over two million hectares of crops. The devastated area included the breadbasket province of Punjab and much of Pakistan’s most fertile land. The disaster struck at a crucial point in the agricultural calendar- just before the harvest of spring-planted crops and within weeks of the critical winter wheat planting season. Livestock surviving the floodwaters lacked feed, veterinary support and shelter.

A year after the most devastating floods in living memory in Pakistan, according to the UN, a series of reports by humanitarian organizations say victims of the disaster are continuing to suffer. Oxfam points out that 800,000 families remain without proper shelter. Malnutrition rates of 23.1 percent in northern Sindh and 21.2 percent in the south were reported - standing above the 15 percent emergency threshold set by the World Health Organization and on a par with some of the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

48.6 percent of Pakistan’s 165 million people are food insecure. Malnutrition is the underlying cause of nearly 40 percent of under-five deaths.

Experts who work in the field see hunger everywhere. “Men, women and children all suffer malnourishment but the impact on the health of women and children is most acute,” Shahid Awan, a nutritional officer at the UN Children’s Fund, told IRIN. He said 95,000 “severely malnutritioned” children had been detected in the country, and that many women suffered anaemia and other deficiencies which also affected the health of children. “The diarrhoea and other infections so many children suffer is just a symptom. The root-cause of the problem is acute malnutrition, and it is this we need to tackle urgently,” he said.

Yet the real root cause , as the agencies indicate, is that food insecurity is linked to prices rather than availability.

“Many people have simply no access to food because of their low income levels. Although Pakistan is producing sufficient food, and this year 24.2 million tons of wheat was produced - more than the requirement - food insecurity has increased,”
WFP spokesman Amjad Jamal explained

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