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EDITORIAL: The federal government is getting ready to launch a laudable new initiative, “Koyee Bhuka Naa Soyai” (no one goes to sleep hungry) by end of the first quarter of this year under its multi-sectoral poverty alleviation and social security Ehsaas programme. At a briefing meeting presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, his point person for the programme, Dr Sania Nishter, said that as per his vision the provision of meals is to be ensured through a coordinated strategy. Areas where people are deprived of two square meals because of economic hardships are to be identified for establishing food distribution centres. And a Donor Management System will be in place to receive contributions from those desirous of promoting public welfare. They will be able to track details of expenditures through a digitalized automated system.

This would be an addition to the already functioning shelter homes where people are also provided with free food donated by generous individuals and organizations. There are many such private initiatives too in big cities, such as Karachi and Lahore, where the needy can go eat or take food home for their families. In the backwater regions of all provinces, however, such facilities, if any, are few and far between. The present plan seeks to cover a broad range of areas. Many in this country though claim that since we grow plenty of food crops no one goes hungry. The argument ignores the fact that eating only bread may keep people alive but lack of access to nourishing food leads to stunted physical growth, cognitive weakness and various illnesses. The present imitative along with another scheme, “Tackling Malnutrition Induced Stunting in Pakistan”, therefore, will be a great help for vulnerable families. The latter, aimed at addressing the serious problem of stunted growth among children due to malnutrition, is a five-year (2020-25) project worth Rs 350 billion, fifty percent of which will be provided by the federal government and rest borne by the provinces.

Important as the present project is, it should not instill dependence. As the proverbial wisdom holds ‘give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach him to catch fish and you will feed him for a life time.” In other words, it is not enough to feed hungry persons; they also need to be taught a trade along with opportunities to use the same. That calls for a sustained focus on inclusive economic growth. Funding for small and medium startups is a significant step in that direction. Agriculture sector where most of the poor live also deserves special attention. In any event, provision of social security net through the Ehsaas progamme to weaker sections of the populace with food as well as a health insurance, “Sehat Sahulat Card” project must remain a long-term project. Many poor who toil all their lives neither can properly feed their families, nor educate them, nor care for the sick, nor fend for themselves if incapable to work for whatever reason. They should be able to look forward to meaningful support from the state.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021