An economic crisis in Pakistan means many are going hungry during Ramadan

In Pakistan's capital, people are lining up in the hundreds for a single bag of free flour at a government distribution center during the holy month of Ramadan.

An economic crisis in Pakistan means many are going hungry during Ramadan

Islamabad CNN --

During the holy month Ramadan which ends this coming week, hundreds of people in Pakistan's capital are waiting to get a free bag of flour from a government distribution centre.

In the face of record inflation and rising poverty, Shahbaz Sharif announced in early March a relief package offering a free bag of flour to the 'poorest of the poor'

Waqas, a 20-year old tech worker, was standing in line in the scorching sun of spring and had never asked for charity in his life.

He told CNN that 'everything has become very expensive'. It has become extremely difficult to just survive.

In the last month, two dozen people in the country have died while waiting for food donations.

13 women and kids died in Karachi in March, Pakistan's financial hub, when hundreds of people stampeded in a rush to get free food. In late March, nine people were killed at two government-run flour distribution sites located in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in northwestern Pakistan.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed its concern over what it termed'mismanagement,' which caused stampedes in wheat flour distribution centres set up by government.

The economic crisis, which began last year, has affected many in this country of more than 200 million people. This is due to the high inflation rate, depreciation of the currency and low foreign currency reserves, used to buy imports such as food and fuel.

After the devastating floods of last summer, one third of Pakistani farmland was damaged. According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), 33 million Pakistanis were affected by severe flooding in Pakistan that caused $40 billion worth of economic damage.

In an effort to keep its economy afloat, the government is trying to reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund in order to restart a $6.5-billion loan program which has been stalled since last November.

The fund presented a list of conditions for the release of an installment of $1.1 billion. This includes a liberalization of the rupee exchange rate as well as an increase in taxes.

Unsustainable program

According to official statistics, the consumer price index in Pakistan rose by a record 35 percent from a previous year to March.

According to the statistics bureau, March's inflation rate was higher than February's 31,5%. Food, beverages, and transportation prices increased by up to 50% in comparison to last year. The bureau reported that staples such as flour, which is a mainstay of Pakistani cuisine, have doubled in price over the last year.

Imran Khan, former prime minister and leader of the opposition, has described the government's policy on flour distribution as 'unsustainable.' He also said that it was a 'humiliating' thing to do.

Pakistan has experienced multiple crises over the past few years. However, current economic difficulties are particularly acute. There is widespread unhappiness and despair.

A survey by Gallup and Gilani Pakistan found that just under three-quarters of the 2,000 respondents believe the economic situation in the country has worsened over the past six months.

Ammar Khan, senior nonresident fellow of the Atlantic Council in Washington, said that several factors were responsible for the food inflation. These included the soaring global grain prices caused by the conflict in Ukraine, and the record-low value of the Indian rupee compared to the US dollar, which made imports even more expensive.

Khan stated that a lack of imports, such as animal feeds and other raw materials necessary for food production, contributed to the food crisis.

He said that a solution to the food shortage would be possible if a deal was reached with the IMF. This would give access to US dollars and allow more imports.

Smuggling is rampant

Food shortages are also a result of food smuggling.

Adil Mansoor is a food analyst in Karachi who said that basic food products such as flour are being hoarded and smuggled through the heavily patrolled Afghan border in Pakistan's north, to be sold in Central Asia for lucrative returns.

The Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah reaffirmed the'resolve of the government' on Wednesday to take a'strict stance' against those involved in smuggling.

The economic crisis has overshadowed Ramadan, a time of sharing meals and thanksgiving. Charity is a major part of Ramadan, and every year soup kitchens offer free iftars - the meal that's eaten at sunset to break the fast.

According to the Saylani Welfare International Trust a non-governmental organization which provides free meals, this year the number of people who rely on goodwill doubled. Many have had little to celebrate.

Syed Naseer said, 'We cannot pay for our children's education fees', as he waited at the soup-kitchen. We break our fast by drinking water and eating a date. Other delicacies we can only dream of right now.

In Pakistan, the economic despair won't be solved by a bag or flour. Many people will go to sleep hungry during Ramadan.