Pakistan floods skyrocket food prices

2010-08-09 14:10

Rawalpindi - Food prices in Pakistan are skyrocketing, compounding the misery for millions as devastating floods ravage the country's most fertile breadbasket and wipe out crops.

"Roads are closed. Fields are under water and it has affected the markets badly," Amir Zada, 35, a fruit and vegetable seller in congested Pindora market told AFP in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

Flies buzzed over unappetising collections of grapes, apricots and peaches, congealing on push carts in the market.

"Orchards are under water. We are facing severe difficulties," added fruit seller Ghulam Nabi.

"There are shortages with the wholesalers. Prices are up and we have no option but sell our stuff at high prices also."

Fruit, vegetables and wheat are farmed in Pakistan's rich agricultural basin along the Indus river in the central province of Punjab and Sindh to the south, as well as in the balmy plains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the northwest.

But for two weeks, torrential monsoon rains have devastated the country, triggering flash floods and landslides destroying 1.4 million acres of agricultural land in Punjab alone, killing off livestock and affecting 15 million people.

Meagre handouts of food

While survivors struggle on meagre handouts of food from local elites and charities, castigating the government for not mobilising more relief faster, markets in even Pakistan's wealthiest cities are facing shortages.

"Prices have increased for every item. Vegetables are not fresh. Fruit is of poor quality," fumed housewife Shahida Begum in Rawalpindi.

"I used to feed my family on 500 rupees ($6) a day. Now I'm paying more than 1 000 for fruit and vegetables. It's simply not affordable."

In Rawalpindi, garlic has jumped from 120 to 260 rupees per kg tomatoes 40 to 120 rupees; green peas 70 to 130 rupees and apricots from 70 to 150.

Some shopkeepers said that relief organisations supplying dried milk to flood-hit areas had caused a shortage.

The situation was worse in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

"We estimate the floods have caused more than six billion rupees of losses to fertile land. Crops, vegetables and orchards have been devastated," Arbab Mohammad Ayub Jan, provincial agriculture minister, told AFP.

"This will have an extremely negative result on the markets. Prices are already high," he acknowledged.

Residents in the northwestern districts of Swat, Dir, Charsadda and Nowshehra told AFP they had to spend 1 200 to 1 500 rupees on a 20kg bag of flour in the first week of floods, up from 550 rupees.

No petrol

Prices are high in areas hit by the floods, but added transportation costs are making produce even more expensive in big cities such as Peshawar, said Bashir Ahmad Bilour, senior minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In Punjab, prices were up three times while many shops and market remained closed, an AFP reporter said.

"There is no petrol in the pumps. Fruit and vegetables are less available and prices are sky high," local resident Mohammad Khaled told AFP in Kot Addu town, where much of the area has been totally flooded.

"I bought one kilo of potatoes for 80 rupees," he said, twice what they cost before the floods.

"Fruit is produced mostly from Sindh while vegetables come from Punjab," said Mohammad Riaz, a trader in Punjab's capital Lahore.

"Swat is already inaccessible. Swat was one of the main producers of apples and other fruits," he added.

"People will starting crying if the situation remain the same."