ISLAMABAD — Pakistanis grappled with skyrocketing fruit and vegetable prices Sunday caused by floods that have destroyed more than 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of crops and left at least 4 million people in need of food assistance in the coming months.
The rising prices threaten to amplify misery in a country where many residents were already struggling with poverty and food insecurity before the worst flooding in Pakistan’s history struck about two weeks ago, killing 1,500 people and leaving millions more begging for help.
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 who struggled to get by even before the floods hit.
“It is like a fire erupted in the market,” said Mohammad Siddiq as he purchased vegetables in the city of Lahore. “Floods and rains have made these things unaffordable.”
Pakistan has worked with international partners to rescue more than 100,000 people and provide food and shelter to thousands more. But the government has struggled to cope with the scale of a disaster that it estimates has affected 13 million people, and could get worse as heavy rains lashed Pakistan again on Sunday.
Many flood victims have complained they have not received aid quickly enough or at all, and this anger could increase as rising food prices across the country affect many more people in this nation of 180 million.
“The floods have destroyed the agricultural fields and washed awayvegetable crops ready for harvest,” said Zahid Gardezi, a farmer in the central Pakistani city of Multan. “Whatever farmers stored they cannot transport because roads have washed away and communication links are down.”
At least 1.4 million acres (570,000 hectares) of crops were destroyed in the central province of Punjab, the breadbasket for the rest of Pakistan, said the U.N. Many more crops were devastated in the northwest, where destruction from the floods has been most severe and many residents were still trying to recover from intense battles between the Taliban and the army last year.
“The flooding has caused massive damage to crops and also to the reserve that people had at their houses,” said Amjad Jamal, spokesman for the World Food Program, which has provided food to more than 265,000 people in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was a food insecure province even before the floods, and a lot of areas are such that people can’t afford even one meal a day,” said Jamal.
At least 4 million people will need food assistance across Pakistan for the next three months at a cost of nearly $100 million, said Jamal.
The number of people needing assistance could increase as heavy rains continued to hit many areas of Pakistan on Sunday, swelling rivers and hampering relief work.
The Indus river overflowed its banks near the city of Sukkur in southern Sindh province on Sunday, submerging the nearby village of Mor Khan Jatoi with chest-high water and destroying many of its 1,500 mud homes.
“We were strengthening the embankment ourselves to save the village but failed and it was breached this morning and water inundated the village,” said one of the affected villagers, Dadal Morai, who complained they have not received any government help.
Many foreign countries have stepped in to help the government, includingthe U.S., which has pledged millions of dollars and provided six military helicopters to help evacuate victims from the northwest and deliver much needed food and water. About 85 U.S. soldiers are involved, though ongoing rain has limited their flights.
But the government has also had competition from hard-line Islamist charities that have provided victims with food and shelter, including one organization allegedly linked to the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed for deadly attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008 that killed more than 160 people.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani asked for more help from the international community Sunday, saying the government couldn’t cope with the disaster on its own.
“We will exhaust our resources to rescue, provide food, medicine and shelter, but it is beyond our capacity, so we will appeal to the world,” said Gilani during a visit to Sukkur.