Saturday, August 16, 2008

Let them eat cake

In my previous post, I included a statement made by the Pakistani Prime Minister, and my own reaction to what he failed to acknowledge on the day of the country's independence.

The victory is not in having democracy, the happiness of Pakistani people lies in economic stability. A common Pakistani earning 350 rupees (5 Canadian dollars) per day does not care who the President or Prime Minister of the country is. Pakistan is going through a major food crisis and the government does not care.

Most of the news coverage regarding Pakistan is dedicated to terrorism, and the government's failure to secure the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So, I was really disappointed/shocked/ashamed to learn about the fact that the Pakistani parents are putting up their children for sale, so at least their children can have a proper meal at the end of the day. I saw a mother holding her child in one arm, and holding a placard saying "Child for Sale" in English, on the Pakistani news channel Geo. My uncle, whose house I was watching the news at, told me that the night before they showed a grown man begging people to buy him, so his family can use the money to feed themselves.

After coming home, I turned to the good old Google, so I could educate myself about the crisis and find out what is being done to stop this inhumane trading of lives. To my dismay, there wasn't much information available about the plight where children are being sold or even killed by their own desperate hungry parents. Maybe the foreign media is not allowed to cover the news about Pakistani children dying of hunger because of the government's censoring. The Bush administration alone has given Pakistan more than $10 billion in foreign aid. So if the rest of the world were to find out about the food crisis in Pakistan, maybe they would be prompted to question the Pakistani government's spending of that extraordinary amount.

I found two news clippings about two Pakistani women. First one, Bushra from Lahore committed suicide along with her two children. Her husband only made 3000 rupees (43 CAD) per month, which was clearly not enough to feed her 5 year old son Zubair, and 3 year old daughter Saima. The second woman, Zareena was found selling her 10 year old son Rehan, and 8 year old daughter Arooj Fatima at a Lahore city center. She was forced to stop and move because she was giving the authorities a bad name, for not looking after their constituents.

In Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and economic center, the price of food is so high that people cannot even afford to have a single meal worth 30 rupees or 43 cents. Human rights activist and social worker Abdul Sattar Edhi has set up a food camp, in Karachi, outside the mausoleum of Pakistan's founder Jinnah, to feed the poor. Edhi who does not accept donations from the government or religious organizations begs for the money during the day, encouraging the regular citizens to do their part during the crisis. He said, "It is very strange that [the rich people in Pakistan] spend billions and trillions on luxuries…when all the while there are people starving outside their gates. We should give more charity." He has set up 325 free food centres in Pakistan, and has estimated that 1 billion rupees (approximately 13.8 million CAD) is required to feed the poor across the country.

Edhi stated, "The signs are already there. Increased number of suicides due to poverty, unemployment and despair, lawlessness, people killing their own children as they cannot feed them. I am not exaggerating." And he is really not exaggerating or dramatizing the situation in Pakistan. The United Nations has announced that Pakistan is one of the 16 countries which are in dire need of our support. According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) about 500 children die every day in Pakistan.

The global food crisis reminds me of the British 19th century economist Thomas Malthus. Malthus believed that human populations, which grow geometrically, will inevitably outpace food production, which grows arithmetically, resulting in malnutrition and famine. I know his theory does not really hold well with our technological development, and availability of mass land, including the slums in Mumbai, and the melting North Pole. But, is the Pakistani government's callousness their way of wiping out the poor so they don't even have to pretend to do something about them? So come the next elections they can save on the money which they would have otherwise paid their staff to write them speeches full of empty promises?

I have no expectations from the Pakistani government or the politics. But I believe in the goodness of ordinary individuals. Pakistan is a country of contrasts, where the rich are very rich, and the poor are very poor. I think it is our responsibility to do something regarding the poverty and the food crisis. I know it is an overused cliché but every little bit matters.