Food scarcity

Editorial Board
Sunday, Sep 04, 2022

The recent floods in the country are likely to place a huge strain on food supplies to Afghanistan too. As a landlocked country located between Central Asia and South Asia, Afghanistan does not have many open routes for food supplies reaching its people. Pakistan is a major source of food grains and other items of consumption in Afghanistan, which is already undergoing a humanitarian crisis ever since the Taliban took control of Kabul in August 2021. The crisis in Afghanistan is not insignificant; in fact it is of catastrophic proportions and now floods in Pakistan will compound the crisis to no end. The UN World Food Programme has cautioned that since much of the food aid to Afghanistan transits through Pakistan by road, the recent damage to road infrastructure in the country is already creating hurdles on the way to Afghanistan. Of course, for Pakistan and for international humanitarian organizations the first priority for now is to focus on the needs of the flood-affected people in Pakistan.

Food security is a major issue for both Afghanistan and Pakistan in the aftermath of the floods that will be visible for months – and even years – to come. In the short run, aid and food supplies from other countries are already reaching Pakistan – but what happens later? Then there is the question of logistical challenges as most of the food for Afghanistan lands on the ports of Pakistan. From there, if the roads are blocked or destroyed, there is no way Pakistan can manage to transport food supplies across provinces to Afghanistan. Every year, the WFP procures hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food supplies to send to Afghanistan, but now the floods have put a huge dent in that plan. Moreover, the supplies from Pakistani producers will also be affected as agriculture production in the country is greatly reduced. Restoring the potential of full agricultural production will take months, and in the meantime people will suffer. According to reports, food storage facilities in Pakistan were not upgraded in decades and were not able to withstand the floods.

For a country such as Pakistan which essentially depends on its agriculture, there should be modern and well-protected storage compounds. But unfortunately, successive governments have not paid much attention. Even despite the massive floods in 2010, the government did not do much preparation for any such eventuality again in future. Now the situation is grave for both Afghanistan and Pakistan whose combined population is over 270 million. Nearly half of Afghanistan’s population was already food insecure even before the floods in Pakistan. Afghanistan ranks 92 out of 116 countries on the Global Hunger Index. Since a third of Pakistan is already underwater and over 45 per cent of cropland has washed away, the damage is in the hundreds of billions. The immediate need is for relief but then long-term planning is the only solution to avoid such a situation in the future.