Razia, a widow from Lahore, looks after three daughters under 15 on a monthly income of Rs 5,000 (about US$60) earned by washing clothes, and like many others she is finding it increasingly difficult to feed her family.
Last month, during Ramadan, she could buy a subsidized 10kg sack of flour at Rs 175 ($2), but prices have now returned to their pre-Ramadan level of Rs 550 ($6.6) per 20kg bag. Other items sold at subsidized rates for Ramadan are also up, she said.
"I bought sugar at Rs 50 [60 US cents] a kilogram from government utility stores last month. Now I pay Rs 60 or more," Razia told IRIN. Like most families, sugar is an essential item for her household. "We use it for tea, and without sweet tea it is hard to get through the day," she said.
Taking note of the hardship caused by soaring sugar prices, Pakistan’s Supreme Court, has ordered sugar to be sold at Rs 40 [48 US cents] a kilogram pending a decision on the matter by a special commission.
“This is a good move by the court. It may offer some relief. Already, because flour is so expensive, we eat less,” said Nazeer Ahmed, 60, a rickshaw driver, adding: "All of us, including my three children, sometimes go to bed with just a mouthful of bread and pickles."
“Food items are costlier, so people are buying less. For example, a dozen eggs which cost around Rs 35 last year, cost Rs 60 this year,” Manzoor Abbas, a shopkeeper at a Lahore market, told IRIN.
Photo: Kamila Hyat/IRIN
Feeding families is tougher than ever before
According to the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, levels of hunger in Pakistan are “alarming”.
A recent incident in Karachi is illustrative of people’s desperation: Twenty women and girls, who had gone with hundreds of others to take advantage of free flour being distributed by a shopkeeper, died in a stampede.
The government’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed prices in July and August were up 10.93 percent on the same period last year. Annual food inflation at the end of August was 10.59 percent, according to the CPI, and perishable items had gone up 17.27 percent.
There is also a debate about how many people benefited from subsidized food schemes during Ramadan. “Hardly 25-30 percent of the targeted population in Sindh Province was able to benefit from the cheap flour scheme, because there was a lot of corruption and mismanagement,” Muhammad Yousuf, chairman of the Pakistan Flour Mills Association in the southern province, told the media in Karachi.
“Measures to provide relief to the poor by supplying food items… free or at concessional rates, are good as responses to unforeseen disasters… [but] they cannot be recommended as a solution to permanent problems such as poverty,” said I. A. Rehman, secretary-general of the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. New policies were needed to eradicate poverty, avoid anarchy and offer permanent solutions, he said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions