Monthly Archives: January 2011

Rising Malnutrition in Pakistan

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UNICEF announced on Friday that survivors of last year’s deadly floods in Pakistan are now facing another tragedy as rates of malnourishment in children are skyrocketing in affected areas. According to a report in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, “six months on from Pakistan’s deadly floods, nearly a quarter of children in the worst-hit province of Sindh remain acutely malnourished.” According to the government of Sindh, this amounts to 90,000 children between the ages of six months and five years.

Pakistani children

Children in the flooded region of Pakistan

These malnourished children are a symptom of a larger problem – to provide relief to the 20 million people affected by the floods. The UN issued a call for $2 billion in emergency relief in September but has only raised about half that amount so far. Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, Rauf Engin Soysal, the UN’s Special Envoy for Assistance to Pakistan said that only 39 percent of early recovery projects have been funded, adding that the remaining billion dollars in relief is “urgently needed.”

While the initial fear of waterborne diseases may have faded, new crises now loom. With 1.7 million homes damaged and 5.4 million acres of arable land affected, getting the country’s agricultural sector back on track is a priority. To that end, Soysal announced that the UN was “providing them [farmers] with seeds, fertilizers and tool to accelerate the rehabilitation process.” As this process continues, seven million people remain dependent on monthly food rations to survive.

This announcement will hopefully refocus international attention on the need for a sustained commitment to Pakistan. With the country’s own government facing massive budgetary shortfalls and the international community struggling to respond to more and more disasters in a time of less and less money, the onus falls on common citizens of all countries to step in and extend a sorely-needed hand of friendship to their Pakistani brethren.

-Faris Islam

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Taliban and Women’s Education

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Afghan education minister Farooq Wardak has said a paradigm shift may be coming in the battle for women’s education, telling the media recently that the Taliban had undergone a “cultural change” and decided to end their opposition to girls’ education in the country. While Wardak is close to Afghan President Hamid Karzai – and involved in reconciliation talks with the Taliban – members of the militant group have not confirmed his statement.

Girls attend computer class at a Barakat school in Afghanistan

Indeed, even within the Taliban it appears there are contrasting views on the issue, with the Taliban’s former Ambassador to Islamabad, Mullah Zaeef, telling the BBC that the ban imposed by the Taliban was “a temporary measure” due to the group’s disapproval of co-education and of male teachers teaching women. In addition to the Taliban, others in Afghan society have also opposed educating women for various reasons. As the education minister said, “In the deepest pockets of our society, not only the Taliban, there was not very friendly behavior towards education.”

Beyond these cultural obstacles identified by the minister, millions of Afghans who brave violence and tackle prejudices to send their children to school, face even more challenges. With the country ranked amongst the world’s poorest and still recovering from thirty years of conflict and war, schools are struggling to make ends meet and provide a quality education to their students.

Despite the hardships, Afghans of all ethnic groups – including parents of Barakat students – are determined to provide their children with previously unimaginable opportunities through the power of education. As Wardak went on to say, “During the Taliban era the percentage of girls of the one million students that we had was zero percent. The percent of female teachers was zero percent… today 38 % of our students and 30 % of our teachers are female.” Hopefully, with the minister’s announcement, Afghanistan can look forward to these numbers rising in years to come.

-Faris Islam

India & The Onion Issue

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This year has seen a particular rise in food-related issues in Asia. Cabbage prices have run sky-high, threatening the easy distribution of Korea’s national pickle, kimchi. Flooding in Pakistan has created conditions so dire that wiped-out infrastructure and decimated fields have resulted in a national debilitating food crisis. Now, India is experiencing its share of food crisis problems, which is targeting one specific staple: the onion. The crisis over onions, which have doubled in price in the last month, has been serious enough to be covered in pun-filled stories by both Al Jazeera and the BBC, among others. both Stories reflected on the source of the crisis and whether it could have been avoided.

Sources are claiming that the price increase in onions has resulted from heavy rains,which have curtailed the onion crop. Due to the lack of onions, not only have they themselves doubled in price, but dishes featuring onions (read most Indian dishes) have also increased in price, much to the chagrin of Indian consumers.

Soutik Biswas, blogger for the BBC reflects on the importance of the onion for Indian cuisine: “Onion is a vegetable that no Indian kitchen can do without. It is also the most egalitarian of vegetables. A poor peasant or worker’s sparse meal is incomplete without a bite of the pungent bulb. The onion is pureed, sauteed and garnished in the rich man’s feast as well. It also occupies a unique culinary space in Indian cooking.”

The onion crisis holds both political significance in India, but also shows us how the steep rise in certain foods (Americans can look to corn or the potato for a helpful comparison) can shake a national identity and send waves of panic through its people. Many Indians are wondering how to cope without the onion and the Indian government is taking many measures to try to conserve onions and import more to satiate the appetites of the Indian people. While we can be thankful that this problem does not rival that of Pakistan’s post-flood food crisis, the importance of onions in the Indian diet makes the price increase very significant.

Food crisis unfortunately took on many faces in 2010 and we can only hope for better days in 2011, lest more Indians shed tears for the lack of onions.

Got any thoughts on the Onionoclypse of 2010? Feel free to leave them below! Don’t forget to tweet at us @barakatinc!

-Elizabeth Peyton