Khalid Masood Khan
As the month of fasting dawns upon us, low- to middle-income individuals across the nation brace themselves for the economic impact of speculative behavior on food and other prices. This year, the situation has taken an even more dire turn as people struggle to cope with the constantly surging prices of food, fuel, and power, alongside rising unemployment levels due to one of the worst economic crises in the nation’s history. The result? People are forced to make tough decisions, from cutting down on essential expenses to even pulling their children out of school.
But, it seems desperation has led to even more extreme measures, as we witnessed in Karachi where a jobless man poisoned himself, his wife, and their two daughters in a bid to escape the chains of poverty. Unfortunately, such instances may become more commonplace if immediate action isn’t taken.
Meanwhile, weekly inflation rates have skyrocketed, with a record spike of 45.64% just a week before the start of Ramazan. The statistics are telling – inflation has stayed above 40% for the first time since August last year. To put this into perspective, monthly consumer inflation had already surged to 31.5% in February, the fastest rate in five decades.
It’s no secret that the vulnerable segment of society bears the brunt of such economic turmoil. Those who can barely make ends meet have no room for maneuverability when prices of essential commodities shoot up. The impact of such inflationary trends on food prices during the month of Ramazan is not just felt by the low-income bracket but also by the middle class. Sadly, it’s a trend that has become all too familiar during the holy month.
Moreover, despite government claims to the contrary, it is evident that inflationary trends are not being addressed. While the Finance Ministry has stated that inflation is due to a temporary supply-side shock, this does not align with the reality of the situation. This is not a new phenomenon – for years, policymakers have been aware of the country’s vulnerability to inflationary pressures, but action has been slow, and at times, non-existent.
It’s high time that the government realizes that cosmetic measures will not solve the problem. It’s time to implement structural reforms that address the root cause of the inflationary pressure. There’s an urgent need to develop a comprehensive strategy that takes into account the nation’s socio-economic context.
In addition, short-term measures must be taken to ensure that the vulnerable sections of society are not left high and dry. The government must ensure the provision of essential commodities at subsidized rates, increase cash transfer programs, and support small businesses that are struggling to make ends meet. These steps may not solve the root cause, but they will undoubtedly help alleviate some of the pain that the people are currently experiencing.
Furthermore, it’s essential to understand that inflation is not just a financial issue but a moral one as well. Inflation impacts the purchasing power of individuals, and as a result, it affects their ability to lead a decent life. Those who can barely make ends meet face an uphill battle when prices of essential commodities shoot up. The need of the hour is to recognize the moral responsibility that we hold towards the marginalized segments of society.
As the holy month of Ramadan approaches, the already dire situation of low- to middle-income Pakistanis is set to worsen due to the impact of speculative behavior on food and other prices. This year’s Ramadan will be particularly challenging as families are already grappling with skyrocketing food, fuel, and power prices, coupled with one of the worst economic crises in the country’s history. The situation has forced many to make tough decisions, from cutting down on basic necessities to pulling their children out of school.
Regrettably, some have resorted to extreme measures, as evidenced by a recent tragedy in Karachi where a man, unable to bear the burden of poverty, poisoned himself, his wife, and their two daughters. It’s a heartbreaking reminder that the economic fallout of the pandemic is hitting the most vulnerable segments of society the hardest.
Adding to the misery, short-term weekly inflation has surged to a staggering 45.64%, and monthly consumer inflation reached 31.5% in February, the highest in five decades. The situation is particularly alarming as it comes just before the start of Ramadan when demand for food skyrockets.
Sadly, the Ramazan factor only exacerbates the situation. While the government has announced subsidized Ramazan bazaars to provide relief to vulnerable families, the reality is that these measures have not proved effective in the past. The bazaars are notorious for benefiting only a limited portion of the population, mostly in urban areas, while the funds allocated for this purpose are allegedly squandered or stolen by corrupt officials.
It’s imperative that the government adopts policies to stabilize prices in the short to long term. That means addressing the root causes of inflation, such as currency depreciation and rising energy costs. It also requires a crackdown on speculative behavior and hoarding, which only further drives up prices.
It’s time for the government to take concrete steps to support the most vulnerable members of society. This could include expanding social safety net programs, providing targeted subsidies, and investing in education and vocational training to help families break out of poverty.
At the same time, the private sector must also play its part by increasing investment in the agriculture sector and improving supply chain management to ensure that food is available and affordable for all. The government can facilitate this by creating an enabling environment for business growth and reducing red tape.
Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the government to ensure that all citizens have access to basic necessities such as food, healthcare, and education. Ramadan should be a time of spiritual reflection and generosity, not one of despair and hardship. It’s time for leaders to step up and take meaningful action to alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable members of society.
In conclusion, the month of fasting has always been a difficult period for the vulnerable sections of society. Still, this year, it’s more critical than ever that policymakers take concrete steps to address the root cause of the inflationary trend. The impact of such trends on the purchasing power of individuals is not just financial, but moral as well. It’s time to take urgent action to alleviate the pain being experienced by those who are struggling to make ends meet. The government must act now, before more desperate and extreme measures are taken by those who have been pushed to the brink.