Islamabad, Apr 5 : The World Food Programme (WFP) has cautioned that nearly half of Pakistan's 160 million population was at the risk of "food insecurity" due to a surge in prices in past few months.
On the basis of findings of a survey conducted by it, the WFP said that during the year ended March, the number of people deemed "food insecure" had risen 28 per cent to 77 million from 60 million in the previous year.
The WFP identified those consuming less than 2350 calories per day as being below the food security line.
Sahib Haq, one of the WFO officials who conducted the survey, said that food prices rose at least 35 per cent in the past year compared with an 18 per cent rise in minimum wages.
"There is a very big gap between the increase in prices and increase in wages ... the purchasing power of the poor has gone down by almost 50 per cent. There will be a big crisis," The News quoted Haq as saying.
The price of wheat flour in January was between 24-25 rupees (38 US cents) per kg in three of Pakistan's four provinces, compared with 15 rupees per kg in January 2007, the WFP said.
Prices have since moderated to around 17 rupees but are expected to shoot up 40 per cent or more in the coming months, according to grain industry officials.
Pakistan consumes about 22 million tonnes of wheat a year.
Similarly, prices of rice, vegetables and cooking oil have also risen sharply, and the economic hardships faced by ordinary people played a big part in an election in February that resulted in President Pervez Musharraf's political allies being thrown out of government.
The consumer price index, a key indicator of inflation, rose 11.25 per cent in February from a year ago, mainly due to food prices.