In September last year, the United Nations’ (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization warned that crops had been wiped out in the worst-affected areas of Sindh and Balochistan and many livestock had died. Since the region is an important one for the production of wheat and vegetables, prices for food have soared.
Even before the floods, Pakistan’s Federal Bureau of Statistics, the Ministry of Food and other public sector organisations had compiled data on the rising cost of basic food items. According to these official findings, the country saw a 74% increase in food prices between June 2008 and June 2011. Sharp increases in staples such as wheat, vegetable ghee and sugar, meant that in the first half of 2011 many families were suffering from chronic hunger. Officials believe that the number of undernourished Pakistanis has been rising by around 5 percent each year during this period. This can only mean that the number of underweight children – estimated at 39% of under-fives by the World Health Organization, 2000-2009 – is also rising.
A new report by IRIN highlights the increasing desperation of some families in Pakistan, who are now so poor they resort to infanticide. According to a spokesperson for the Edhi Foundation, which runs orphanages in Pakistan, the bodies of more and more children are being collected on the streets. Nine out of ten are girls, since they are seen as a greater economic burden on a family. The Foundation’s figures for the number of dead infants are based on bodies found in large cities –1,210 last year, compared to 999 in 2009. The charity places cradles outside its orphanages, urging families to leave their babies in care rather than kill them.
If the situation is worsening in the cities, it is likely that in rural and remote regions children are even more at risk, particularly in Balochistan and Sindh, where poverty is at its highest. No data is available on rural areas, but many families face a daily struggle to feed everyone and extra children can be seen as unaffordable. Though many Pakistani women would like to have access to family planning, the use of birth control methods is still very low for cultural reasons and abortion is illegal. One gynaecologist told IRIN “the mothers themselves wish to save the children but they also see the economic struggle of their families in a time of growing inflation”. It says something about the sheer desperation of poor families in Pakistan, that murdering infants is seen as the only option open to them.