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Food for thought

Pakistan has the second fastest growing nuclear stockpile in the world. It is also home to such chronic levels of malnutrition that it squanders $7.6 billion a year (or three percent of GDP) on lost productivity. That’s not all, folks. According to findings by the Pakistan Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN), more than 177,000 children die every year in Pakistan before their fifth birthday. In monetary terms, the opportunity cost of this in terms of lost future workforce is $2.25 billion per annum. Let that sink in for a moment: 177,000 children dead before turning five. The time has come to admit the truth. Pakistanis in the grips of a national emergency. At best, this is a gross violation of human rights. The state has broken the social contract with the citizenry. If left unattended, it will be hard to counter allegations of ‘terrorism’ by the state against its most vulnerable. It seems that the lessons of the Thar Desert famine have not been learned particularly well. Back in 2015, a UNICEF report put the number of people at risk from post-drought starvation at 3 million. Indeed, 80 percent of the local population was said to be dependent on borrowing money to buy food. This is by no means simply a Third World problem. Britain now has more than one million people reliant on foodbanks, with only a small portion of these being refugees.
But sadly, the question of image is a Third World problem. Following the devastating flood that left 20 million displaced, the then UN chief Ban-Ki moon urgently appealed to the international community to dig deep for Pakistan; while lamenting its image problem as seen through western eyes. Indeed, the then USAID official issued a barely-veiled warning to Pakistan: get your act together on corruption because it is the US who can dictate how much money the rest of the world will cough up. Billions of international development assistance has poured into Pakistan for decades without much impact.
It doesn’t have to be like this. The best way that Pakistan can overcome its image problem is to improve its governance, empower local governments and invest in its people. Ensuring that the whole population has access to nutritious food and clean drinking water would be a good place to start. For this is not a favour doled out by a benevolent state. It is state delivering on the inalienable rights of its people.



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