- Insensitivity is as much a tragedy as any other
This newspaper recently published a report about how South Asia ranks highest in incidents of ‘child stunting,’ based on a study by Laura Hammond.
Another national daily reports that four out of ten children in Pakistan are ‘unlikely ever to meet their cognitive and developmental potential’, which is “44 percent nationally, the third highest in the world.”
An insufficient diet, which means an insufficiency of required nutrients can lead to ‘stunting,’ which leads to children failing to achieve normal growth, and can also lead to permanent damage to the brain. This insufficiency can occur while the child is still unborn if there is insufficient food for the family, including the mother, it can occur after a child is born when it is growing, or both. The study includes the Global Hunger Index (GHI) on which Pakistan ranks at 106 out of a total of 116 countries. That means in plain terms that in this country there is a horrific incidence of people not having enough to eat.
Covid-19 has only added itself to the long list of already existing diseases that prove much more dangerous to those who have an insufficient or improper dietary intake. An improper intake implies too much processed food, or food that is too high in salt, sugars or other undesirable ingredients.
What else could have been achieved with this money? How much food could it have bought for thousands of persons, for the fishermen of Thatta, for the young children of impoverished fathers? How many Sakinas could it have saved from killing themselves, how many children saved from hunger? How many persons could it have educated so they could support themselves and their families? How much heartache for how many millions─ and yet all it did was feed those who already eat too much. Such acute poverty of mind has to be as much a tragedy as any other
A sufficient intake requires both an informed choice and the financial ability to obtain it. So it is a spiral: poverty leading to lack of education leading to an insufficient earning capacity– leading back to poverty which means an insufficient diet, and/ or one full of all the wrong things. On top of this is the unfair inflation of prices these days; a slippery slope that requires urgent attention. They keep saying they’ll do something about it, but ‘something’ has yet to be seen.
The country is poor, the government uninterested. Even if it were interested it lacks the scale of funds required. Private individuals donate a great deal to charity in Pakistan, but an even greater effort is needed.
A few years ago there was the case of Sakina, a poor peasant woman who was ill but could not afford medical care. The husband was too poor to afford basic food items. The family, which included two children, was starving. Sakina eventually ended her life by consuming pesticide. She is one of the many for whom death seems to be the most peaceful option.
Such cases take place all over the world, as in Syria where over 22 persons starved to death a few years ago, and in Yemen where millions were close to starvation in 2017.
But ever since covid-19 put in an appearance the situation has become even worse. Unless measures are taken, something like 12,000 people a day are likely to die of hunger around the world for reasons directly related to the current pandemic, Oxfam reports.
In Dadu a young labourer recently offered one of his sons for sale, because he had lost his job following the pandemic. As a result his wife, children and his parents were facing starvation.
In a large fishing community strung out on a series of islands off the coast of Thatta in Sindh, since covid-19 appeared on the scene, and the usual fish markets shut down, the already poverty-stricken lives of these fishermen suffered further. The community now faces starvation on a large scale.
Meantime Oxfam has warned that more people are likely to die of hunger caused by covid-19 than of the illness, and an incredible number have already died of the disease. Oxfam also mentions that women suffer even more since they are so often the target of discrimination.
After all this information which cannot really be news to most people, and it may come as a surprise that the main focus of this column is not hunger, or poverty or even stunting. It is in fact the exact opposite of all these things: repletion, riches and obesity, all of which were on display recently at a function to celebrate the marriage of two business families who clearly did not know what to do with their excessive wealth.
In the midst of the covid-19 pandemic, in the midst of a world suffering from disease, poverty and death two families saw fit to spend their money on rivers of food, flowers and rich clothing. An insane amount of money was spent on the function, apparently something like Rs 200 crore. The function broke not just religious injunctions (Allah loves not the wasters: al A’raf, 7:31) but also ignored safety measures, and managed to break all rules that limit the number of guests and number of dishes at such functions. There must be any number of well lubricated palms floating around the city at present that have little to do with Nivea or Oil of Ulay.
It seems not to have occurred to these families that the tailors and artisans who stitched their prohibitively expensive clothes, the men who set up their chairs and elaborate dais, the cooks who prepared their food and the waiters who served it came from families that were many of them close to the brink of starvation, who must have looked at the riches around them and questioned life itself.
The FBR, which moves in mysterious ways, asked the event managers and those who performed at the wedding to explain themselves following the wedding. Somewhat as an afterthought they have also, and very rightly so, questioned the two families involved.
Whether this questioning will result in any answers or simply some smirking individuals, we are still to discover. But several people one knows have decided to get their tiles from elsewhere, and have switched their grocery preference to other outlets.
What else could have been achieved with this money? How much food could it have bought for thousands of persons, for the fishermen of Thatta, for the young children of impoverished fathers? How many Sakinas could it have saved from killing themselves, how many children saved from hunger? How many persons could it have educated so they could support themselves and their families? How much heartache for how many millions─ and yet all it did was feed those who already eat too much. Such acute poverty of mind has to be as much a tragedy as any other.