Pakistanis face economic hardships

Rising food prices overshadow political uncertainty for Pakistan's poor.


    In Islamabad's markets talk is of rising food prices not the struggle for political power

    It has been a week since Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, resigned and the country's coalition government is still squabbling about who will take over the reigns of the country.

    But while they worry about who will keep the tightest grip on power, the political uncertainty is taking its toll on the country's economy and Pakistan's working class are paying the price.

    Inflation is at a record 24 per cent, fuelled by soaring food prices and a rapidly falling currency - the Pakistani rupee has fallen almost 24 per cent against the dollar this year.

    For most Pakistanis, concerns over who will become the country's next leader are overshadowed by the economic turmoil that has made even the most basic food unaffordable.

    In the markets of Islamabad, the capital, talk is of prices not politics.

    "It doesn't matter who runs this country, they are all the same. They are members of the political elite and they do not represent the working class. It will just be a change of face, but Pakistan won't see any benefits. It is the poorer people of society who are having to deal with inflation," Ayesha Amir, a housewife, said.

    Sher Ali Khan, a trader at the Pirwadhai Sabzimandi wholesale vegetable market, says soaring prices are taking their toll.

    "Look at the prices of rice, look at the cost of flour. Everyone is worried."


    Onions are a staple ingredient in most Pakistani dishes - two days after Musharraf stepped down, their price rose from 18 rupees a kilogram to 30.

    This grandmother cannot afford to feed her nine grandchildren
    The price of potatoes, another staple, has doubled.

    In Rawalpindi, Islamabad's twin city, an elderly woman showed us the one-room home she shares with her two sons, their wives and her nine grandchildren.

    Made from bamboo sticks and a cloth roof, it provides little shelter from the rain or heat and it is located on the edge of a storm drain, placing the family at constant threat from flash floods.

    But at the moment that is the least of the family's worries - they cannot afford to buy flour to make chappatis (a type of bread), their empty tin plates are stacked in the corner of the room and the family is on the brink of starvation.

    "Whether Musharraf or anyone else is in power, it doesn't matter, we have no food, nothing to eat. We have children and we have hunger in our home," the grandmother says, too tired to shoo away the flies that sit on her face.

    An accident left her son, a manual labourer, unable to work and the family has no income.


    The ruling coalition government had vowed to turn its attention to the economy once Musharraf left.

    But after six years of economic growth under Musharraf, the economy is facing widening trade and fiscal deficits, soaring inflation, and falling reserves.

    Some analysts and investors say the economy may need to borrow billions from abroad to stay afloat, perhaps even turning to the International Monetary Fund for a loan.

    Musharraf's departure may have left the country with no clear leadership but those that remain must start to focus on what really matters - Pakistan's rising food prices and growing hunger.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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