• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Wheat flour shortage affects Afghan refugees in Balochistan

News Stories, 19 May 2008

© UNHCR/D.A.Khan
An Afghan boy sells naan bread in Quetta. The price of wheat flour to make the naan has been rising.

MUHAMMAD KHAIL, Pakistan, May 19 (UNHCR) Images of people queuing in front of utility stores late last year to buy wheat flour was still fresh in everyone's memories when another food crisis emerged recently in Pakistan. The shortage of food and the skyrocketing prices have multiplied problems of the already poverty-stricken Afghan refugees and needy locals living in south-western Pakistan.

Muhammad Khail is one of the poorest Afghan refugee villages in Balochistan province. It is just 116 kilometres from the provincial capital of Quetta, but takes three hours by car to reach due to poor road conditions. The majority of the inhabitants here used to be nomads, with limited skills to meet their daily needs. The current food shortage has affected Muhammad Khail more than any other village due to its isolated location from urban settlements.

"One can live without tea, meat, rice and vegetables, but how can one live without wheat flour? This is the only luxury we have, which now seems out of our reach," said Haji Gulab, a 50-year-old Afghan in Muhammad Khail.

The flour shortage that emerged in Pakistan late last year has resulted in food price inflation. Reports indicate that wheat prices have gone up by 130 percent in the first quarter of this year in Pakistan, due partly to rising global fuel prices and increased demand for food commodities.

"A bag of 20-kilogramme flour is being sold at 420 rupees (US$6.70) to 560 rupees, whereas the government fixed rate was 380 rupees," said an exasperated Jan Muhammad, 55, in Muhammad Khail. "Such a small amount of flour is hardly enough for three to four days; what would we eat the rest of month?"

Earlier this year in February, the government of Pakistan deployed one of the border security forces, the Frontier Corps (FC), within cities to halt flour smuggling to Afghanistan and to ensure the fair and smooth distribution of flour to consumers.

"The FC was providing flour to those who produced their Pakistani National Identity Cards, which we don't have. We are very grateful to our Pakistani brothers, who purchased the flour and sold it to us," said an Afghan working as a daily wage labourer. "But they cannot help us anymore, because the flour is so scarce that they hardly feed their families."

Muhammad Khail is home to some 6,000 registered Afghans. The majority of the men are daily wage labourers or run small grocery shops. Their monthly average income is approximately 3,500 to 4,000 Pakistan rupees (US$56-US$64).

"We are unable to go to the cities [to buy flour] due to the increase in transport fares; they say that the increase in the fuel prices has resulted in a price hike. Rice, beans, meat, edible oil, milk and flour, the price of each item has increased so that now one can buy them in dreams only," lamented Haji Gulab.

"The wheat flour situation at Muhammad Khail may be an extreme example because of its isolated location," noted John Solecki, head of the UNHCR office in the provincial capital, Quetta. "However, the situation facing the residents in Muhammad Khail is indicative of some of the challenges faced by Afghans [and locals] elsewhere in Balochistan."

© UNHCR/D.A.Khan
Pakistanis and Afghans queue to buy subsidized wheat flour from a government-run store.

The UN refugee agency is working with the local authorities to alleviate the wheat flour shortage facing Afghans in Balochistan's most remote refugee villages. The Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees is hopeful that it will soon be able to bring flour to Muhammad Khail and Malgagai refugee villages.

Until then, the daily struggle to survive continues. "For our survival we are now forced to make flour out of the substandard wheat and grain that we once fed our animals, because we can't afford to buy expensive flour," said Haji Gulab. "I can go hungry for days, but I can't see my children dying of hunger."

By Duniya Aslam Khan in Muhammad Khail, Pakistan

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Food and Nutrition

UNHCR strives to improve the nutritional status of all the people it serves.

Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

A funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations in refugee camps in eastern Chad by up to 60 per cent. As a result, Sudanese refugees in 13 camps in the east now receive about 850 calories per day, down from the minimum ration of 2,100 calories daily they used to get. The refugees are finding it difficult to cope. Clinics in the area report a significant spike in malnutrition cases, with rates as high as 19.5 per cent in Am Nabak camp.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

In the meantime, the refugees experiencing ration cuts have few options. Poor soil quality, dry conditions and little access to water mean they can't plant supplemental crops as refugees in the less arid south of Chad are able to do. To try to cope, many refugee women in eastern Chad are leaving the camps in search of work in surrounding towns. They clean houses, do laundry, fetch water and firewood and work as construction labourers. Even so, they earn very little and often depend on each other for support. In the town of Iriba, for example, some 50 refugee women sleep rough each night under a tree and share their some of their meagre earnings to pay for a daily, communal meal.

They are also subject to exploitation. Sometimes, their temporary employers refuse to pay them at the end of the day. And some women and girls have resorted to prostitution to earn money to feed their families.

Ration cuts can have an impact far beyond health, reverberating through the entire community. It is not uncommon for children to be pulled out of school on market days in order to work. Many refugees use a portion of their food rations to barter for other essentials, or to get cash to pay school fees or buy supplies for their children. Small business owners like butchers, hairdressers and tailors - some of them refugees - also feel the pinch.

WFP supplies food to some 240,500 Sudanese refugees in the camps of eastern Chad. Many have been in exile for years and, because of their limited opportunities for self-sufficiency, remain almost totally dependent on outside help. The ration cuts have made an already difficult situation much worse for refugees who were already struggling.

Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

With elections scheduled in October, 2004 is a crucial year for the future of Afghanistan, and Afghans are returning to their homeland in record numbers. In the first seven months of 2004 alone, more than half a million returned from exile. In all, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme started in 2002.

The UN refugee agency and its partner organisations are working hard to help the returnees rebuild their lives in Afghanistan. Returnees receive a grant to cover basic needs, as well as access to medical facilities, immunisations and landmine awareness training.

UNHCR's housing programme provides tool kits and building supplies for families to build new homes where old ones have been destroyed. The agency also supports the rehabilitation of public buildings as well as programmes to rehabilitate the water supply, vocational training and cash-for-work projects.

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

The cycle of life has started again in Afghanistan as returnees put their shoulders to the wheel to rebuild their war-torn country.

Return is only the first step on Afghanistan's long road to recovery. UNHCR is helping returnees settle back home with repatriation packages, shelter kits, mine-awareness training and vaccination against diseases. Slowly but surely, Afghans across the land are reuniting with loved ones, reconstructing homes, going back to school and resuming work. A new phase in their lives has begun.

Watch the process of return, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction unfold in Afghanistan through this gallery.

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

Lebanon: Fadia's StoryPlay video

Lebanon: Fadia's Story

A former nurse, Fadia found life as a refugee in Lebanon to be especially difficult without employment. She counts herself lucky to be living in a shelter paid for by aid agencies, but food and other necessities are harder to come by. Fadia's is one of 145,000 Syrian families in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq headed by women. Poverty, isolation and fear of exploitation are just some of the hardships they face.
Joint Appeal: Help Sought as Food Shortages Threaten Refugees in AfricaPlay video

Joint Appeal: Help Sought as Food Shortages Threaten Refugees in Africa

The World Food Programme and the United Nations refugee agency seek urgent funding to help 800,000 refugees in Africa affected by food shortages. Cuts in food rations threaten to worsen already unacceptable levels of acute malnutrition, stunting and anaemia, particularly in children.
South Sudan: Food Security Play video

South Sudan: Food Security

Jacob is plowing 20 kilometers far from his own home town, Bor, after having to abandon it due to the ongoing fighting in South Sudan. Now in Mingkaman camp,as a displaced person, this land he plows is all he has after losing farm and cattle back home