Hungry People are Not Political

Hungry People are Not Political

Updated: 1 month, 28 days, 2 hours, 8 minutes, 27 seconds ago

Rabia and her husband Raju work as sweepers in my apartment building. Their life has always been a fight to stop hunger from consuming them. They deal with this issue literally from the cradle to the grave. They are unaffected by who runs the country, what is happening in the corridors of power, and how our economy is affected by the global situation. They know the reality of their existence – they were born to struggle and will die struggling.

The couple works long hours to feed their family – their main goal is to provide at least one meal a day. Their buying power has always been low and with the rupee becoming weak, they are scared that they will be unable to afford even one decent meal a day.

Their shrinking buying power is a real concern for them. The family’s combined income is just enough to keep them on the poverty line. However, with the prices of basic consumers increasing – flour is above Rs100 per kilogram – they see impending hunger and fear of being pushed under the poverty line. Rabia thinks her family may have to rely on the food banks run for charity, but she does not trust the government.

Raju and Rosie fear they are going to be deprived of their integrity and will to earn an honest living.

And with the declining health of the Pakistani rupee as compared with the currencies of the region, things look quite bleak. Just to get a perspective, remember “two takka ki…” Well, now the takka is stronger than our rupee. One Bangladeshi taka is equal to PKR2.48. The Indian rupee is equal to PKR3.22; the Nepalese rupee is equal to PKR2.02.

Millions across Pakistan are struggling to keep themselves afloat as the Pakistani rupee dives again and again against the dollar.

And the most alarming thing is that the Pakistani rupee cannot hold its own even against Afghanistan’s currency, – 1 Afghani is equal to PKR2.97. It is time to panic when your currency is weaker than that of a country that has been in a constant war-like situation for more than two decades. If this doesn’t raise red flags for the experts to act, nothing will.

Millions across Pakistan are struggling to keep themselves afloat but are being pushed down the economic pyramid as the Pakistani rupee dives again and again against the dollar. The inflation rate was 24.5 percent in December.

To make matters worse, Pakistan – ironically an agricultural country – is also facing food inflation. According to figures, the price of food in Pakistan increased 31.75 percent in January of 2023 as compared to last year. This factor alone directly affects the kitchen budget and decisions to select food that is consumed by the family. High prices mean many necessary food items like meat and fruits will be cut which will eventually affect the overall health of the consumers.

Life is becoming difficult for a large portion of Pakistan’s population. The government should stop trying to appease people with statements and blaming the global situation. Experts think our government like those of other countries needs to keep an eye on economic forecasts and predictions and begin preparing for them in advance. However, Pakistan does nothing and only reacts when it is too late. And this is why it is always in a state of emergency, unable to properly tackle the impact of the situation.

All the government can do at this point is focus on developing and immediately implementing some short-term relief programs, otherwise, it will be difficult to control a hangry (hungry and angry) mob of approximately 208.57 million. However, looking at the recent ruling parties’ manifestos, it should not be too difficult. The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf manifesto talked about expanding the “Sehat Insaf card to the poorest families across Pakistan and launching special assistance programs for differently-abled persons.”

Although the manifesto does not mention food security like PMLN or a slogan like PPP’s “roti, kapra aur makaan,” it talked about many important issues that Pakistan faces. And it seemed as if the party had plans that would be launched immediately to tackle these old issues.

The manifesto said, “Pakistan’s public spending on social protection is low at 0.54 per cent nearly half of South Asia’s regional average is ~1 per cent of GDP. Consequently, Pakistan’s Human Development Index (HDI) is 0.550, lower than that of nearby Bangladesh’s 0.579 and the lowest in South Asia. 29.5 per cent of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line. This translates to about 60 million people and 8 million Households that live below a consumption level of Rs.3030 per adult equivalent per month. While BISP has been a big breakthrough over the last decade, other safety nets like Bait-ul-Maal, Zakat & Usher have been underperforming consistently.”

Despite this, Pakistan has seen little or no efforts from the previous or the current government to reduce the burden on the people or try to decrease the number living or nearing the poverty line by empowering the agricultural sector and/or creating employment that would absorb the workforce across urban and rural areas. Even now there is a lack of initiative to work on the ground. It would be advisable for the government to stop wasting everyone’s time and use the safety nets mentioned in the manifesto and get things rolling for the betterment of the people.

Hungry people are not political. Likewise, Raju and Rabia are too busy battling starvation to care about politics and political skirmishes at the top. Politics is not a priority when they have to deal with the realities of life and death.

The writer is a journalist and focuses on gender and human rights. She tweets @raiseqalam