Eye on Pakistan

The hungry in South Asia

Posted in Domestic Affairs by onpakistan on June 6, 2009

With some news coverage (for example, the BBCThe News, Reuters and The Economist), the South Asian arm of UNICEF recently released a report on the growing hunger “crisis” in South Asia.
Although the report is of some length, the crucial new analysis are contained in a single table, reproduced below:

Figure 1 - Table from "The Growing Number of Hungry in Asia" (UNICEF, 2009)

Figure 1 - Table from "The Growing Number of Hungry in Asia" (UNICEF, 2009)

The headline figure is the growth by a 100 million of people going hungry – that is those “consuming less than the minimum recommended energy intake. In South Asia this averages approximately 2100kCal/day per person”.
This is an enormous figure. To put the numbers into perspective, I have produced a table below showing % increases between 2004/06 and 2007/08, as well as the % of the total population which is “hungry” in each of the South Asian countries.

Table 2: Analysis of table from UNICEF report (2009)

Table 2: Analysis of table from UNICEF report (2009)

As we can see, an astounding 49% are “hungry” in Pakistan. The amount hungry across South Asia as a whole have grown by 35% between 2004/06 and 2007/08, with an astounding 124% growth for Pakistan.
Some have chosen to use this report to criticise India. I want to focus on Pakistan, as it seems to me that anyone wanting to understand modern Pakistan must come to grips with these numbers. In order to do this let us delve behind the numbers.
The Pakistani numbers come from a July 2008 “Inter-Agency” mission assessment, headed by the FAO. This is an informative and detailed report (available here and here), but some of the key figures for our purposes come from the following two graphs of this report:

Figure 3: Interagency Report tables (July 2008)

Figure 3: Interagency Report tables (July 2008)

From these, we can see that those classed as “hungry” by UNICEF are those not only consuming less than 2,100 kcal per day, but actually those consuming less than 1,700 kcal per day. There are an additional 38.54 million consuming between 1,700 to 2,100 kcal per day. These additional 38.54 million are, rightfully, not classed as “hungry” by UNICEF: the inter-agency report sees them as simply “food insecure”. The 2million odd recently displaced by the military action in Swat and adjoining areas can only add to this number. 1,700 kcal a day corresponds to 7 cups a day, and 2,100 to just over 8 and a half cups of rice a day.

There is much more to be said on this report, I just want to highlight one point, which is that more than two-thirds of the “hungry” (or “severely food insecure people” per the inter-agency report) are in rural areas. Thus the recent food price hikes have hit the rural poor disproportionately harder, leading to decrease in the gap between the hungry in urban areas (which have more hungrier people, as a % of the total) and the rural areas. Rural NWFP was the worst affected by the price hikes, Punjab the least. As always, those low-income families unable to produce their own food and unable to charge more for their labour/goods/services (in the countryside: agricultural wage labourers, petty traders and small farmers; and in urban areas service employees) are the worst affected.
This report contains much more useful information which I hope to return to in the near future.

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