Damage to infrastructure, harvest aggravates corona crisis

LAHORE: The government has eased the lockdowns across the country, while simultaneously extending them, there are regions across the country which are more adversely affected than others.

There are many causes for diversity in humanitarian needs, but in certain cases topography and adverse climate has taken its toll.

According to the World Food Programme, there are 1.76 million people in Pakistan that have been affected amidst the on going crisis, with over 400,000 in need of food assistance. Azad Jammu and Kashmir remains one of the regions which has faced the harsh impact in recent months.

Amidst multiple reports of continued firing across the Line of Control (LoC) by Indian forces, a lot of the damage in AJK has also been done by the heavy winter snowfall in the first two months of the year. That caused injuries across the region, and damaged infrastructure.

Similar to many parts of Pakistan, there had been food insecurity in AJK even prior to the spread of Covid-19. However, now the situation has aggravated.

In the Neelum District, road infrastructure was significantly damaged as a result of the avalanches earlier this year. A lot of the food stocks were spoilt as well. A combination of the two – limited food supply and at tens of thousands of families being stranded – created a humanitarian crisis.

The crisis, in turn, was exacerbated owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, which meant that like other parts of the country AJK had to be put under lockdown as well. With roads damaged, this further limited mobility and access to food.

There have been similar impacts in other topographically challenging areas of Pakistan as well. In Balochistan, for instance, more than half of those surveyed by the Provincial Disaster Management Authority in February reported displacement.

However, the crisis remains especially critical in AJK, where certain regions are still difficult to access owing to the damage caused by avalanches. Three of the union councils in Neelum – Dudnial, Kail and Sharda – are accessible and are receiving food supplies, but Guraiz still is inaccessible owing to the damaged infrastructure.

Furthermore, in addition to the infrastructural causes limiting food supplies, locals confirm that stock had already been impacted by the adverse weather conditions.

“The entire country, and in fact the entire world, is going through difficult times, but it has been especially tough in Neelum. The locals haven’t got the harvests that we expected, the food supplies were already less. And now with roads being damaged, many families are completely cut off,” said a local resident Muhammad Shabbir.

“The shortage of supplies has meant that there has been a massive rise in prices of basic food items like wheat and sugar in recent weeks,” noted another resident Ghulam Ahmed.

While sugar and wheat crises impacted the entire country, the challenge remains steep in the region. However, the government maintains that it is taking all the needed steps to address food shortage all over the country.

“The government will ensure that ration and food is supplied to the needy across the country in the wake of Covid-19. The Prime Minister has advised the Minister for National Food Security to ensure availability of all food items all over the country,” said Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan.

Food Department of Azad Jammu and Kashmir maintained at the start of the month that there is no shortage of supplies. The Food Department’s situation report said that 6,717 metric tons of wheat stock was available, with 4,453 metric tons of wheat flour in the Food Department go-downs. However, question marks remain over the supply of the stocks to those needing it the most.

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