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Entitlement Failure

A long-term public support is needed to protect food entitlement of the people, particularly those living in the least developed, resource scarce regions of the country.

By Imtiaz Ahmed | February 2021

hunger in sindh

Pakistan ranks 88th out of 107 countries in the “2020 Global Hunger Index and Strategy for Stakeholders”. According to reported prevalence of undernourishment in Pakistan, 12.3 % or an estimated 26 million people are undernourished or food insecure.

The existence of hunger or starvation for longer periods in any region or community is the outcome of failure of entitlement relations. Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen says that change in entitlement of any person can happen due to some reasons such as loss of employment, alienation of land, rise in food prices, wars and unusual climate system in the form of scarcity of water or above normal rainfall, floods etc.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan one can witness a combination of more than one cause of entitlement failure in some highly susceptible regions to unusual climate patterns. The people of notably deserts and arid areas along with millions of poor Pakistanis bear the brunt of exorbitant rise in food prices and also have been coping with impacts of climate change for many years.

The large number of poor people of Pakistan concentrates in deserts and arid areas. Chronic poverty is rampant there and most of the population has been living below the poverty line for generations. In any natural disaster, whether devastating floods or terrible droughts, the lives of poor people are always at the highest risk. Since, they spend a major portion of their earnings on food, whenever their income is affected, it has serious corresponding impact on food entitlements.

In all vulnerable areas, the Thar Desert in Sindh is the most affected region. The dilemma of people of Thar is well known. For many years, they have been fighting for their survival in a never-ending lack of water. The gruesome deaths of innocent little children reported in the media time and again are a manifestation of their perpetual sufferings. In 2020 alone, due to shortage of food, more than 700 children succumbed to malnutrition and other ailments.

Thar is the largest desert in Pakistan and around 1.65 million people live there. Yet, unfortunately, as per some rough estimates, more than 70 % inhabitants are spending their lives without adequate food supplies. In the absence of any irrigation network, the survival of humans and livestock altogether depend on rains. The crops are cultivated, when luckily there is normal rainfall in any year. However, abnormal climate systems have completely disturbed weather cycles. Eventually, the Tharis face long periods of drought. Absence of alternative employment opportunities and food inflation has made it more difficult for them to make ends meet. The incessant deaths of children due to shortage of food depicts their extreme predicament.

Historically, wars and famines from primitive to modern times have remained a source of great human devastation. Millions of people, especially in sub-Saharan African countries have lost their lives in long spells of drought. In South Asia, during the colonial era, the historical record shows astonishing fatality figures by famines in some areas.

Nevertheless, researchers have reported encouraging progress in some sub-Saharan African countries in the recent past. After long spells of exposure to disasters, they now give importance to entitlement protection systems and have provided direct public support to their population in times of crisis.

In the context of Pakistan, in order to protect food entitlement of residents of vulnerable regions, long -term public support is highly needed. In the current scenario, availability of water resources seems to be a distant dream. However, there are examples of successful experiences regarding provision of alternative wage employment to affected communities through public service programs in a few countries. A similar approach can also be adopted in Pakistan and at least one family member be hired in public sector projects or private employment. This additional income would be considerably useful to distressed households during hardships.

Most importantly, this is time to save people from perpetual hunger through permanent long-term policies and programs. Otherwise, Pakistan’s rank in the Global Hunger Index would drop further in the coming years.