ISLAMABAD: The World Food Program (WFP) has stressed converting the debt of disaster-affected countries like Pakistan to hunger relief, as the number of food-insecure people rises to 14.6 million in Pakistan following the devastating floods this year, a senior WFP official said on Thursday.
The cash-strapped South Asian nation had already been going through a serious financial crunch before the heavy monsoon rains hit in mid-June this year, triggering unprecedented floods that, at one point, left a third of the country’s territory submerged. Governmental estimates show the floods affected more than 33 million people or one in every seven Pakistanis.
Raging floods swept away huge swaths of crops, leaving already impoverished families struggling to get access to food and clean drinking water. With the country already undergoing a foreign reserves shortage, farmers and officials have warned that Pakistan now faces serious food shortages at a time when food prices around the world are high.
After a damage assessment survey, Pakistani officials have estimated that the deluges have cost the country more than $30 billion in damages.
“In general, food insecurity has doubled in Pakistan because of the floods, meaning the country has seven million food insecure people, and floods have added almost 7.6 million people more [to that number],” Arif Husain, WFP’s chief economist, and director research assessment and monitoring division, told Arab News in Islamabad.
“So now, we are talking about 14.6 million people, which is a huge jump.”
Based in Rome, Italy, Husain’s work focuses on analyzing food security and welfare conditions in developing countries to inform humanitarian and development responses.
“One thing which we are proposing is that maybe we need to think about debt relief for hunger relief, meaning if we can have debt relief for climate, why not debt relief for hunger relief?” he said.
“These poor countries which have too much debt can use that for exchange, for at least importing their food and fertilizers.”
Speaking about measures needed to bring down food inflation, Husain said Pakistan should consider starting trade with India.
“If China and India can trade then, we should reconsider trade with India too as it will bring food inflation down quickly,” he said, adding that the world needed to help Pakistan to enable it to afford food, fuel, and fertilizers to deal with looming food crisis.
“For Pakistan, relief is required as urgently as possible,” the WFP official said, adding that his organization was running a big operation in the South Asian nation, but others should also extend a helping hand due to the magnitude of the crisis.
“WFP alone is assisting about 2.7 million people in Pakistan right now — including Sindh, Balochistan, and southern Punjab — and that needs to continue, so we can save people’s lives,” he added.
WFP is providing technical assistance and helping in building human capital, Husain said, adding the UN body was also investing in education and nutrition.
“We are working in food for world type projects where you are building livelihoods, you are building the resilience of people, and also working with the government for the system development in terms of technical assistance providing knowledge,” he added.