“Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security: Challenges for Women”
jointly organized by SDPI and Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Pakistan
15 December 2020 (1:45pm – 3:15pm PKT)
It is a pleasure to be part of 23rd Sustainable Development Conference of SDPI which is co-organised with the NL Embassy here in Islamabad.
It is important to start by recognising that despite being a food-surplus country, Pakistan is increasingly becoming food insecure not because of food production shortages but because of problems of access to food due to lack of purchasing power. Economic inequalities and high inflation in food prices is making food inaccessible to the large segments of the population.
- Covid-19 aggravated already critical levels of food insecurity
- Covid-19 has come to aggravate an already chronically critical food insecurity situation. According to the latest national nutrition survey, 44% of children under 5 were stunted in 2018, and 36.9 percent of the population in Pakistan was facing food insecurity. Sources can slightly vary, but we are talking about 40-60 million pre-Covid-19 food insecure people.
- A number of districts in Sindh in Balochistan present even more worrisome food insecurity figures. In Tharparkar and Umerkhot for instance -located in one of the worst drought prone areas in the country, where the EU will soon start a EUR 3 million food security project in collaboration with FAO, 60% of the population or 1 million people where in 2019 in situation of crisis or emergency in terms of food security.
- Main driver behind food security is poverty
- Extreme poverty is the main driver behind these disturbing data. The Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) for Pakistan, which captures the three main deprivation indicators (education, health, and living standards) shows that, in 2017-18, 38.3% of the country population was deprived in at least one or more of these three indicators (education health and living standards) which have direct and indirect impacts on food security.
- Poverty rate in terms of daily income declined from 29.5% in 2013-14 to 24.3% in 2015-16. These are good news but if one looks are the number of people behind these figures – this means that around 50 million people were still living below the national poverty line. Since then, poverty reduction pace has decelerated due to structural economic issues and the lack of redistribution policies as well as due to the impact of covid.
- Being poor means living at the edge of the cliff. When faced with external shocks poor households lack the necessary human, financial, and physical capital to withstand the impact. With the coronavirus crisis, disruptions in domestic food supply chains, other shocks affecting food production such as the recent locust infestations, and loss of incomes and remittances are creating tensions on food systems in Pakistan and increasing food security risks.
- Poor households are naturally being the worst affected by the socioeconomic impact of Covid-19. In Pakistan, another 10 million are expected to move into poverty due to the pandemic.
- Poverty and malnutrition come hand in hand.
- Malnutrition is a multidimensional and intersectional phenomenon. The intersections of class, poverty, gender and religion determine the nutritional status of people in Pakistan.
- Women face specific nutrition-related challenges that take a heavy toll on the whole society. Children of malnourished women are more likely to face cognitive impairments, short stature, lower resistance to infections, and a higher risk of disease and death throughout their lives. The more children each woman has – the higher the risk of a malnourished mother and therefore the bigger the risk of health problems of the children.
- Again, poverty and malnutrition come hand in hand. Micronutrient deficiencies, which affects particularly pregnant and lactating women, are strongly correlated with GDP per capita, and current projections predict a global GDP decline of 10% due to Covid. In Pakistan the GDP is expected to contract between 0.2 – 2% in 2021.
- Immediate responses are required to address malnutrition among women. Solutions do exist. It’s well known, that a number of nutrition specific measures such as Maternal dietary supplementation Micronutrient supplementation, or Breastfeeding and complementary feeding lead to proven positive impacts.
- In that sense, allow me to highlight how important it was for me to see that our support to the government of Sindh through our EUR 60 million flagship nutrition project in the province has contributed decisively to ensure that 262 nutrition stabilisation centres in 8 districts have kept running during these Covid times. This is projected to reach and treat about 70,000+ malnourished kids per year.
- Efforts of the Government need to be recognized
- The GoP is making an extraordinary effort to palliate the negative impact of Covid-19 on the most vulnerable. PKR 1.25 trillion (USD 7 538 233 750) are being spent to provide relief with a focus on daily wageworkers and labourers through existing social protection systems. This is being implemented through the Ehsaas program as well as other initiatives. Also the international community has shown its commitment to contribute to tackle the immediate effects of the pandemic. We all know that these effort need to be stepped up, and the structural causes to be addressed.
- The main challenge remains the same as before Covid-19, and is a common one to men and women: how to accelerate poverty eradication and provide fair economic opportunities to all, and we need to recognise that there is not a simple answer to that.
- In the province of Sindh for instance, the EU is presently supporting a project portfolio for an amount EUR 192 million. Together with the Government of Sindh and our implementing partners, why are trying to devise ways to provide meaningful support to this 76% of the rural population in the province who are uneducated landless labourers families, in many cases bonded by debt. And we should recognise that it’s not easy to really tackle the root causes without a comprehensive response.
- Way forward
- We need to work further together of policy responses to combat poverty and inequality leading to food insecurity.
- Policies need to be fully implemented.
- Policies that are monitored with proper figures reflecting the real situation in real time including systematised gender analysis and sex-and age-disaggregated data collection, in order to be fully accountable for the concrete results achieved.
- Policies the need to focus on the most vulnerable groups and trigger more significant structural changes.
- Policies that actually take into account both men and women’s roles so as to ensure that their multiple and differentiated needs are adequately addressed.
I thank you for your attention.