Islamabad, Aug 2 : The increasing prices of basic food items have resulted in long queues for free food (langars) in front of masjids and shrines. While till recently only beggars and the needy used to visit the 'langar khana', but over the past few weeks labourers and others from lower income group are also joining in to enjoy free food.
Inflation has broken the back of many people who now find their earnings not sufficient enough to cope with the skyrocketing prices, said a report in the Daily Times.
According to it, official figures indicate that inflation soared at such a pace that it jumped over 31 percent in just one week (June 27-July 3, 2008), the record high in the country's history. The figures also show that the prices of goods and services for the lowest income group increased as much as 31.6 per cent during the week ending on July 3 as compared to the same week of the last year.
The shrine of Islamabad's patron saint Bari Imam is also one of the spots where long queues are witnessed due to soaring prices of essential commodities. Raja Jaffer, a worker at the shrine, said the number of visitors has almost doubled in the recent months, reported the paper.
"The number of people coming here for free meals has more than doubled in recent months, so tremendous has been the price hike," he said, asking how could the poor afford to pay for food when even an ordinary cup of hot tea was being sold for Rs 7.
According to Raja, on a normal day distribution of food starts early and continues through to 10.00 pm. This ritual at the shrine located in Nurpur Shahan Village at the foot of the Margalla Hills has been going on for years.
Bari Imam, whose real name was Shah Abdul Latif Kazmi, was a 17th century Sufi saint, and it is said that when he first arrived at the village it was inhabited by dacoits, but his presence and preaching drew them towards a pious way of life.
Rice mixed with chickpeas remains in great demand with people buying the stuff from their outlets and dispatching it to the "langar khana" for distribution as charity.
Sahib Haq, the vulnerability analysis and mapping (VAM) officer at the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), cites consumption needs exceeding production, change in the government and increased petrol prices as the main reasons for the present crisis. "Another important factor is Pakistan's import dependency on basic food items as 80 percent of cooking oil and 20 to 30 percent of lentils are imported," he pointed out.
With the alarming inflation making lives of the people miserable, the new government has failed to address their woes, instead claiming that it had inherited the problems ailing the country.