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Soaring Food Prices Amplify Misery in Pakistan


A Pakistani man, along with many others, awaits an airlift rescue from flood waters in Kalam, Pakistan. Rising food prices threaten to amplify the misery caused by some of the country's worst flooding in 80 years. (AP Photo/B.K.Bangash)

Food prices have skyrocketed in Pakistan at the
start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, after vast stretches of
crops were destroyed by flooding.

The rising prices threaten to amplify misery in a country where many
residents were already mired in poverty before some of the country's
worst flooding in 80 years struck.

The prices of basic items such as tomatoes,
onions, potatoes and squash have in some cases quadrupled in recent
days, putting them out of reach for many Pakistanis.

At least 1.4 million acres of crops were destroyed in Punjab, the breadbasket of Pakistan, according to the United Nations.

Crops destroyed

Many more crops were devastated in the northwest, where residents
were still trying to recover from intense battles between the Taliban
and the army last year.

At least 4 million people will need food assistance across Pakistan for the next three months at a cost of nearly $100 million.

Farmers have returned to find their fields and crops destroyed.

"I had 200 kilos of corn at my home which the flood took away with
it," said Dil Aram Khan, a farmer from Pirpai in Nowshera District.

"All of our wealth is destroyed along with our wheat."

An official in Pakistan's northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
said maize, rice, sugarcane and vegetable crops were the most affected.

Another farmer said he used to hand any excess produce to the poor.

"Now the situation is this that we ourselves are waiting for charity," Iltaf Hussain Kakar said.

The desperate situation, however, was not deterring Pakistanis from undertaking the Muslim fast in the holy month of Ramadan.

"We will fast but we don't know how will we break the fast, whether
we will find any food or not. Only Allah knows," Nusrat Shah,
a displaced Pakistani in Sukkur, told the Reuters news agency. 

Fakhar Zaman, a businessman in Swat Valley, said: "You know the people of Swat, they would never skip fasting."

Call to reject aid

Pakistan's Taliban, meanwhile, have denounced all foreign aid for
flood victims and said they can match the latest US pledge of $20

"We condemn American and other foreign aid and believe that it will
lead to subjugation. Our jihad against America will continue," a
spokesman for the group, Azam Tariq, told the AFP news agency.   "The
government should not accept American aid and if it happens, we can
give $20 million to them as aid for the flood victims," he said.

"We will ourselves distribute relief under leadership of our chief
Hakimullah Mehsud among the people, if the government assures us that
none of our members will be arrested."

The US announced on Tuesday it would increase its flood  aid by another $20 million to $55 million.

Daniel Feldman, a senior US State Department official working on
Afghanistan and Pakistan, dismissed reports of  extremist groups
providing aid to needy Pakistanis as "quite overblown".

Referring to US efforts to win public support in a country where
anti-American feeling runs high, Ward said the US government tries to
"brand as much as possible" of its aid.   "In this crisis, in the
face of this disaster, we very much want the Pakistani people to know
that the people of the United States are behind them, are helping," Ward

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