According to the 2021 National Nutrition Survey, 36.9 per cent of the population of Pakistan is vulnerable to food insecurity. This is primarily due to the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the population having limited economic access to an adequate and diverse diet. The survey also revealed the region’s second highest rate of malnutrition, with 18 per cent of children under the age of five suffering from acute malnutrition, 40 per cent stunted, and 29 per cent underweight. All complementary feeding indicators are far below acceptable levels; only one in every seven children aged 6-23 months receives a meal with at least four different food groups, and approximately 82 per cent of children are denied the minimum number of meals per day. If we talk about this year, Pakistan ranked 92nd out of 116 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI). The country’s hunger level is classified as serious with a score of 24.7. On a regional level, Pakistan ranks higher than India (ranked 101), while the other two close regional neighbours, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, rank higher than Pakistan, with ranks of 76 and 65, respectively. The GHI aims to mobilize global action to combat hunger. The index includes four indicators: undernourishment (the proportion of the population that consumes insufficient calories); child wasting (the proportion of children under the age of five who are underweight for their height, indicating acute malnutrition); child stunting; and under-five mortality rate (the mortality rate of under-five children).
Pakistan has also been one of the most severely affected countries in terms of a massive increase in the number of chronically food insecure people. While announcing the Kisan Card, then Prime Minister Imran Khan said, “Farmers are the backbone of Pakistan, and it is a step toward modern agriculture that will transform and change Pakistan.” The country’s recent food crisis has drawn widespread public attention, while policymakers have been chastised for failing to present a timely assessment of demand and supply. This problem has been exacerbated by the recent food price crisis, which has reduced the purchasing power of those who are already living below the poverty line. The flood devastation over the past couple of months has further wreaked havoc. The lack of technological advancement is time-consuming and frustrating. Farmers continue to use hand tools and ancient methods to carry out agricultural activities, which not only results in the underutilization of land resources but also in lower yields. That means the government has badly failed to resolve this major issue.
Not only the government but one of the aspects of society which is “spending a lot of money on food at a wedding and wasting it” also failed to resolve the issue of food insecurity in Pakistan. The issue is quite alarming, yet the people who can afford to help others in terms of feeding, spend a big amount of savings in making their weddings lavish; even the middle class takes out their life savings and lavishly spends on their children’s weddings.
Food price inflation has averaged 18 per cent over the last four years, while poor people’s purchasing power has declined significantly. Since late 2010, food prices have remained near an all-time high, pushing millions further into abject poverty. Aside from the millions who are malnourished, we have thousands of people who can barely manage a square meal a day and sleep on an empty stomach. We are also not far from the sight of those children who scour the garbage cans for food. However, when it comes to weddings, many people are food insecure due to food inflation, even though food is served on the streets of Pakistan by charities. People at weddings put more food on their plates than they can eat, and the leftovers end up in garbage cans. This is true for the majority of visitors. Approximately 15-20 per cent of food is wasted in such functions, according to estimates. When the number of dishes exceeds the number of guests invited to the wedding halls, waste can range from 20 per cent to 25 per cent. In response to questions, the management of a wedding lawn stated that catering is not their responsibility, but that based on their observations, the waste is between 15-20 per cent in most cases and higher if the number of dishes is excessive. Since the introduction of the buffet system in dinners, caterers have admitted that waste has been enormous. They estimate waste to be 20 to 25 per cent. However, if the arrangements are better and the service staff is more careful, the waste will be reduced. Taking the total number of social functions held in big cities like Karachi, and Lahore, the average wastage of food is 15 to 20 per cent. The losses are in tons. Just try to imagine the losses countrywide. Even with the implementation of one dish system, people don’t stop wasting food because they have a habit of pouring plates with heavy meals.
“Food availability is insufficient to end hunger and undernutrition; it is just as essential, if not more so, to ensure that people have access to healthy and safe meals if universal food security and the pervasive concern of stunting and wasting among children are to be dealt with,” notes analyst Muhammad Abdul Kamal, an Assistant Professor at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan.
There is an urgent need to impose a ban on wedding feasts, with only snacks, tea, or cold drinks allowed or at best, a one-dish party with a limited number of guests to reduce the amount of waste that is occurring. Another option is to encourage charities to pick up leftover food in refrigerated vehicles for free distribution to the needy.
To avoid food waste, leftovers should be distributed to neighbours or nearby poor people or sent to an orphanage. Minimizing food waste is something that each of us can work on individually to help those who are less fortunate than we are.
“There is no one-size-fits-all methodology to handle food and nutritional insecurity. A consistent multisectoral approach is needed,” noted Tabinda Ashraf Shahid, the Editor of Scientific Investigation and Global Network of Scientists.
“The huge economic and human damage inflicted due to the pandemic, poverty and conflict needs to be reversed. There is a dire need for effective measures and sustainable nutritional goals to restore food security in the current global situation,” she added.
The writer is a freelance columnist.