RISING COST OF LIVING PUSHES PEOPLE TO THE TETHER'S END

KANWAL SALEEM
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Mar 1 - 7, 2010

The rising cost of living has not only pushed people to the tether's end, but also caused deep frustration among the people who are facing more and more difficulties due to economic problems.

The cost of living has increased by about 50 percent during the last two years. The Sensitive Price Index has risen from 173 points in February 2008 to 254 in January 2010, while the prices of some essential items have surged from 250 percent to 300 percent. Steep rise in food prices is a matter of grave concerns for the poor in particular and those having fixed income in general.

Official statistics show that during this period, the price of sugar jumped up from Rs 26 to Rs 70 per kilogram; that of wheat flour from Rs 16.50 to Rs 30 per kg; a 250-gram packet of tea, previously priced at Rs 65, is now available at Rs 124; price of farm chicken shot from Rs 71 to Rs 140.

Vegetable and fruit rates showed a similar trend. People are feeling the pinch of increased food prices, as they are finding it difficult to make both ends meet.

The compounded problems of food production, distribution and falling purchasing power are matter of concern.

It is really unfortunate that the government has yet to show a strong resolve to protect the vulnerable sections of the society. Recent sugar and wheat flour crises were caused mainly due to hoarding. The government needs to take some drastic measures to protect the people from influential hands of those businessmen who appear to act like a cartel practicing arbitrary price fixation.

The government hardly did anything to implement the anti hoarding law against the powerful flourmills or the sugar industry owners.

Experts believe that half of Pakistan's population face the challenge of food insecurity. Despite efforts such as the raising of the wheat support price, the Benazir Income Support Programme and attempts to stabilise fluctuations in food prices, the fact remains that the number of people confronted with the spectra of starvation continues to grow.

They emphasised the need for effectively addressing the problem of food insecurity and putting in place safety nets for the future. On the one hand, food production must be increased. It must be made profitable for farmers to grow food crops, while farming and irrigation techniques must be modernised. Water scarcity is the most serious problem, which needs to be tackled by the government.

Yet food production is just one part of the problem. Issues of distribution, accessibility and the negative influence of cartels must be addressed, they said. Shortages of dietary staples and potable water are already in evidence. Given the effects of the global warming-induced desertification that are predicted for Pakistan, it is certain that the country will soon have to feed a larger population with a lower acreage of arable land, they added. The prices have been constantly increasing for the past one-year and people worry that such a trend will absolutely continue to have negative effects on their lives.

Globally, every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes-one child every five seconds. In essence, hunger is the most extreme form of poverty, in which individuals or families cannot afford to meet their most basic need for food, health professionals said.

According to them, hunger manifests itself in many ways other than starvation and famine. Most poor people who battle hunger deal with chronic undernourishment and vitamin or mineral deficiencies, which result in stunted growth, weakness and heightened susceptibility to illness. Countries in which a large portion of the population battles hunger daily are usually poor and often lack the social safety nets we enjoy, such as soup kitchens, food stamps, and job training programs.

Undernourishment, they said negatively affects people's health, productivity, sense of hope and overall wellbeing. A lack of food can stunt growth, slow thinking, sap energy, hinder fetal development and contribute to mental retardation. Economically, the constant securing of food consumes valuable time and energy of poor people, allowing less time for work and earning income.

Financial experts told Page that Pakistan's real GDP recorded a growth rate of just 2% during 2008-09, falling drastically short of targeted 4.5%. Agriculture and services sectors have grown by 4.7% and 3.6%, respectively.

The performance of manufacturing sector has particularly been depressing. Overall manufacturing sector posted a negative growth rate of 3.3%. But the growth in large scale manufacturing (LSM) sector was even dismal, a negative 7.7%.

POVERTY, DEPRIVATION AND INCOME DISTRIBUTION

Poverty, deprivation and unfair distribution of wealth remain to be pressing issues. So is the case with opportunities of work.

On the other hand, official circles ruled out any possibility of food crisis in the country next year. Flour price in the country is stable at the average of Rs 30 per kilogram. However, they said the shortage of storage facilities for wheat is a fact that facilities for storage are only for 25% of our requirements. However, Passco and other agencies are constructing warehouses and storage at a cost of Rs 37 billion and the problem would be overcome from next year.

Moreover, fish and fish preparations' exports during the first half of current fiscal year declined by 11.28 percent over the corresponding period of last year.

According to Federal Bureau of Statistics, fish and fish preparations exports during July-December (2009-10) were recorded at US$97.815 million as against the exports of US$110.255 million recorded during July-December (2008-09). During December 2009, fish exports decreased by 25.72 percent as compared to the exports of November 2009.

Fish and fish preparations exports during the month under review were recorded at US$ 16.476 million against the exports of 22.180 million recorded during November 2009, the figures revealed. As compared to the exports of US$17.879 million recorded during December 2008, the fish exports during December 2009 decreased by 7.85 percent. However, the overall food exports during the month of December were increased by 32.29 percent as compared to the food exports during November 2009. The food exports during December 2009 also witnessed upward trend by 64.02 percent when compared to the exports of the same month of last year.

The food exports during July-December (2009-10) declined by 11.64 percent as compared to the corresponding period of last year.

Food exports during the first half of the current fiscal year were recorded at over US$1.468 billion against the exports of US$1.661 billion recorded during July-December (2008-09).