Islamabad : Rising inflation has dampened the Ramadan spirit in Pakistan. As the country prepares for the holy month, many seem to have lost their faith in the State that governs them, reported DW News.
Rising food inflation in the country has hit Pakistanis particularly hard this year. The festival of prayer and lavish food preparations has been overshadowed by soaring inflation in the country. Tightened budgets have hit Pakistan's poorest hardest. Unlike previous years, indulgence in Ramadan month is proving to be a pricey proposition for many this year. Dates are being sold for up to euro 3.5 per kg, which is unaffordable for many households with staggering food cost, reported DW News.
"Inflation has risen so much that things selling for Pakistani Rs 200 per kg past year are now priced Rs 500 per kg. At the same time, petrol, bus fares, rent and other expenses have also increased tremendously. What can we do?" said a Pakistani citizen.
High prices mean many travels further afield to find deals at wholesale markets, reported DW News.
The all-time high price of wheat flour pushed weekly inflation in Pakistan up 1.80 per cent week-on-week and 46.65 per cent year-on-year during the seven-day period that ended on March 23, pointing to even tougher times ahead in the country, Geo News reported.
Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) data issued on Friday attributed the surge in the sensitive price indicator (SPI) to the increase in prices of tomatoes (71.77pc), wheat flour (42.32pc), potatoes (11.47pc), bananas (11.07pc), tea (7.34pc), georgette (2.11pc), lawn (1.77pc), long cloth (1.58pc), pulse mash (1.57pc), prepared tea (1.32pc), and gur (1.03pc).
"Everything has become too costly. I ask the government to reduce prices because of Ramzan. They should think of the Muslims who are fasting. There are poor labourers here who push wheelbarrows from morning until evening and earn only Rs 200 at the end of the day. What are they going to eat during Ramzan?" another Pak citizen told DW News.
The PBS noted a decrease in the prices of chicken (8.14pc), chilli powder (2.31pc), LPG (1.31pc), mustard oil and garlic (1.19pc) each, pulse gram and onions (1.06pc) each, vegetable ghee 1kg (0.83pc), cooking oil 5 litres (0.21pc), pulse moong (0.17pc), pulse masoor (0.15pc) and eggs (0.03pc), Geo News reported.
For the week under review, the SPI was recorded at 250.66 points against 246.22 points registered last week and 170.92 points recorded during the week ended March 24, 2022.
"Prices have really risen this year. What can a poor person do? We cannot buy anything. I am a working woman myself. I work for other households. What can people like me do?" said the lady.
Pakistan is going through one of its worst economic crises in years. Inflation has surged more than 30 per cent. The Pakistani state usually offers relief packages during the month of Ramzan, but this year, the cash-strapped government have little to give.
"So far the government has only arranged flour at discounted prices, nothing else. I think that's not enough. The government should also pay attention to the price of sugar, cooking oil and other things that are consumed during Ramzan. The government should subsidize some other items, especially cooking oil," said another Pakistan citizen.
"The major reason behind the increase in wheat price is the change in subsidy mechanism. The government has now shifted from general subsidy to a targeted subsidy through BISP [Benazir Income Support Programme]," said Fahad Rauf, head of research at Ismail Iqbal Securities, adding with the onset of Ramzan, food prices would continue to rise, Geo News reported.
Moreover, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has asked Islamabad to provide external financing assurances before it takes the next step with Pakistan to release the bailout tranche, reported Geo News.
"Timely financial assistance from external partners will be critical to support the authorities' policy efforts and ensure the successful completion of the review [with Pakistan]," said Julie Kozack, the IMF's Director of Strategic Communications at a press briefing.
It should be noted that Pakistan and the IMF have been negotiating since early February an agreement that would release USD 1.1 billion to the cash-strapped, nuclear-armed country of 220 million people and its supercritical for the liquidity-challenged country, whose deficient foreign exchange reserves needed an urgent shoring up.
The funds are part of a USD 6.5 billion bailout package the IMF approved in 2019 -- vital to Pakistan to avert defaulting on external payment obligations, reported Geo News.
The IMF wants Pakistan to get the assurance of up to USD 7 billion to fund this fiscal year's balance of payments gap.