Human Interest

Stampedes at Pakistan free ration distribution centers kill 5

Islamabad, Mar 31 (EFE).- Stampedes at multiple ration facilities providing free wheat in the inflation-hit Pakistan have killed at least five people in recent days.

Pakistan is grappling with soaring inflation, which reached a 50-year high of 31.5 percent year-on-year in February.

The government began a free flour distribution program for the “poorest of the poor,” during the holy Ramadan month.

Thousands of people gather at government-run centers to get free flour bags.

Stampedes have occurred in such crowded places.

“In Punjab, four people, including two women, have died at flour distribution sites so far,” provincial police officer Abid Hussain told EFE on Friday.

Caretaker Chief Minister Punjab Mohsin Naqvi has ordered an inquiry into the incidents.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, another person was killed in a stampede last week, the provincial police said.

“Many suffered injuries in a stamped at a flour distribution center in Charsadda last week,” Peshawar police officer Fakhar Khan told EFE.

Prices have gone up manifolds over the last year.

The price of flour, a staple food item for every Pakistan household, has doubled.

“In March last year a 15-kg bag cost 1,150 Pakistani rupees ($4) which costs 2,300 ($8) now,” Ashan Khattak, a shopkeeper in the capital Islamabad, told EFE on Friday.

Food prices generally surge during the fasting month, making it more difficult for people to cope with the rising inflation.

Several video footages shared on social media showed desperate Pakistanis quarreling with each other to grab flour bags at the distribution centers.

The deadly stampedes at flour distribution centers shed light on the common man’s plight in a country afflicted by soaring prices, currency depreciation, and the removal of subsidies from petroleum products and electricity bills.

The government removed subsidies after agreeing with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to unlock the latest tranche of its financial assistance package.

Despite months of negotiations, the global lender has not sealed its agreement with cash-strapped Pakistan.

The talks began in November last year after Pakistan entered into a $6.5 billion program with the IMF in 2019.

According to government sources, the IMF has sought written assurances of financing to Pakistan from friendly countries before it unlocks the program to release the tranche of $1.1 billion.

On Thursday, the central bank said foreign reserves dropped by some $354 million to $4.24 billion during the week ending Mar.24.

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