PAKISTAN: Floods send food prices higher

Child vendors continue to sell food in a flood-hit Punjab town amid severe food shortages/Photo: IRIN

Women outside a store in the town of Mianwali, in the northwestern part of Punjab Province, stand in mud up to their shins – mud left behind by floodwater which has now begun to recede – waiting to buy wheat flour, but are annoyed by the small quantities being doled out.

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“They are selling just two kilos at a time. That will take us nowhere. I have 10 people to feed at home, and it is more expensive to buy in such small amounts,” said Bilquis Bibi, 45.

Shopkeepers were keeping back stock in the hope prices would rise, and a 20kg sack of flour which cost Rs 560 (US$6.5) a few days ago was now being sold at Rs 650 ($7.6) or more, she said.

“There is no supply getting through. We have to be careful how much we sell or we will run out of supplies altogether,” said Idrees Khan, a shopkeeper.

But Punjab Province is relatively unscathed: Further north, hundreds have been killed by the worst floods to hit the country in decades.

In the small Swat Valley town of Kabal, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province, people say they face starvation.

“There is very little food available here. The wheat flour stored in homes is wet or has been washed away. Shops are also destroyed and have nothing to sell and supplies are not getting through,” said local farmer Saboor Uddin, speaking to IRIN by phone from his village near Kabal.

“We cannot even get potatoes or onions from the land because it has been destroyed and prices are soaring.” He said it would take months to get land back into cultivatable shape again. Many people in Swat had only recently resumed farming activities after months of conflict and displacement which eased in July 2009.

Difficult access

KP information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said damaged roads and bridges were hampering the movement of goods and the provision of aid.

Media reports from Charsadda and Nowshera, two of the most badly-hit districts in KP, say some relief trucks have been looted and there were also claims of aid being unfairly distributed, with officials favouring relatives.

According to a 3 August update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme has provided 500 tons of food – including wheat flour, high energy biscuits and ready-made meals for children – to more than 6,000 families in Nowshera, Peshawar, Charsadda and Mardan.

Even in the KP capital, Peshawar, people complain aid is not getting through. “Our house is in ruins. We are living in the open, and no one has tried to help us,” Aziz Khan, 40, told IRIN. He complained his three children had gone to bed hungry for three nights.

Outside KP, western Punjab has been hardest hit. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said over 990 villages had been affected and 15,000 houses destroyed in the province; 47 deaths have been officially confirmed.

“I went to buy tea and sugar just now, and prices have doubled,” said Muhammad Suleiman in the Punjab town of Dera Ghazi Khan.

NDMA Chairman Lt-Gen Nadeem Ahmed, speaking in Islamabad, said roads and bridges had been badly damaged in the northern territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, making access extremely difficult, and necessitating air drops of supplies.


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]