By Imran Naeem Ahmad
ISLAMABAD: The growing inflation has led to an increase in people queuing up for free food at the shrine of Islamabad’s patron saint Bari Imam.
Raja Jaffer, a worker at the shrine, told Daily Times on Friday while previously only beggars and the needy used to visit the ‘langar khana’, now the labourers were also joining in.
“The number of people coming here for free meals has more than doubled in recent months, so tremendous has been the price hike,” he said, asking how could the poor afford to pay for food when even an ordinary cup of hot tea was being sold for Rs 7.
On a normal day, the distribution of food starts early and continues through to 10.00pm. This ritual at the shrine that is located in Nurpur Shahan Village at the foot of the Margalla Hills has been going on for years.
Bari Imam, whose real name was Shah Abdul Latif Kazmi, was a 17th century Sufi. It is said that when he first arrived at the village, it was inhabited by dacoits but his presence and preaching drew them towards a pious way of life.
The ‘deg’ sellers in the vicinity of the shrine said rice mixed with chickpeas remains in great demand with people buying the stuff from their outlets and dispatching it to the “langar khana” for distribution as charity.
Inflation has broken the back of many people who now find their earnings not sufficient enough to cope with the skyrocketing prices.
Sahib Haq, the vulnerability analysis and mapping (VAM) officer at the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), cites consumption needs exceeding production, change in the government and increased petrol prices as the main reasons for the present crisis.
“Another important factor is Pakistan’s import dependency on basic food items as 80 percent of cooking oil and 20 to 30 percent of lentils are imported,” he pointed out.
With the alarming inflation making lives of the people miserable, the new government has failed to address their woes, instead claiming that it had inherited the problems ailing the country.
The statistics provided by Pakistan’s Federal Bureau of Statistics indicate that inflation soared at such a pace that it jumped over 31 percent in just one week (June 27-July 3, 2008), the record high in the country’s history.
The figures show that the prices of goods and services for the lowest income group increased as much as 31.6 per cent during the week ending on July 3 as compared to the same week of the last year.
The WFP officials said that with wheat prices having seen a 35 percent increase in one year (March 2007 to 2008), a new lot of 17 million Pakistanis was in danger of becoming food insecure.
With already 60 million food insecure people in the country, the increase in wheat prices and more for some other food items did not match the increase in wage rate that was 18 percent as compared to last year.
According to WFP analysis, 38 percent of Pakistanis are food insecure, meaning not able to afford poverty line intake of 2350 kcal per day.
The situation is such that people living below the line of poverty are facing severe malnutrition and hunger.
Source: Daily Times, Pakistan