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Number of malnourished children in Pakistan at emergency levels

Over half of households in Pakistan are currently food insecure and the number of malnourished children is running at emergency levels.

According to the head of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping unit in Pakistan, 15.1% of under-fives in the country are a low weight for their height, when any rate above 15% is classified as an “emergency level” by the World Health Organization.

Speaking to the news agency IRIN, the WFP head warned that the “very poor, very serious nutrition” situation in many regions means that “children aren’t growing as they are supposed to”. Many families are simply unable to afford enough food, often through hardship caused by the country’s recent natural disasters and because of inflation which is leading to high food prices.

According to the latest ‘Global Food Security Update’ from the WFP, prices of cereals are significantly higher than a year ago, having rising around 8% for wheat and 11% for rice. And fuel prices are 25% higher than the same time last year, which adds to the overall costs of supplies because of higher transportation costs. With food prices rising internationally in recent months, the upward inflationary trend looks set to continue, especially since domestic harvests have not increased over the last decade to satisfy the demands of a growing population.

Flooding in September affected around 4.5 million Pakistanis, according to the National Disaster Management Authority, with nearly 300,000 people still living in relief camps towards the end of that month. A large number of families and smallholders lost all their food stocks and in some regions, local markets have few supplies because access has been severely limited due to flood water. Seven flood-affected districts have been labelled as in ‘crisis’ or ‘emergency’ phases by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a tool used for analysing the scale of food insecurity.

Poor families can receive some assistance from the state through the Benazir Income Support programme (BISP). The scheme was started in 2008 and provides the poorest households with monthly cash support. Currently, around 5.5 million families are being assisted by the scheme. However, with inflation and food prices running so high, even with help, it’s a struggle for many mothers to feed their children. One widow in Islamabad, who regularly begs outside a mosque for extra money to feed her three children, summarised her situation quite simply, “if I buy roti [bread], I have no money to buy anything else”. 

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