Pakistan: Free flour leads to long queues, stampedes and deaths

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Pakistanis are being hit so badly by the declining economic situation and chronic food shortages that the country has reported multiple deaths from various centres earmarked for the distribution of free ration.

At least three incidents reported in the past week capture the frustration and misery people are facing across the border, The Print reported.

Their experience? Hunger, long queues, stampedes.

In Punjab’s Sahiwal, a woman died and 56 others — including 45 women — were injured when a stampede broke out at the Quaid-i-Azam stadium, which was being used as a flour distribution centre.

Going by reports in Pakistani media, the stampede was a mix of mismanagement, a glitch with the app used for identifying beneficiaries and police high-handedness. Eyewitnesses were quoted as saying that hundreds of beneficiaries stood in queue for three to four hours at the stadium after the app developed a snag.

As frustration built up, a group of policemen “started manhandling and baton-charging” the crowds, which triggered the stampede.

An inquiry has been ordered by Punjab’s caretaker chief minister Mohsin Naqvi to probe the sequence of events that led to the deadly stampede.

But this was not the only instance of chaos at a flour distribution centre in Pakistan that took a deadly turn.

Just last week, four elderly people were killed and scores of others injured during flour distribution drives, yet again in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The dead included a 73-year-old man who succumbed to injuries he suffered at the hands of an unruly crowd at a government high school in Rahim Yar Khan, which doubled up as a distribution centre.

In Muzaffargarh, seven people were injured after the wall of a banquet hall being used as a flour distribution point collapsed, while in Okara, four women had to be rescued by the police after they fell unconscious as they stood in que during a distribution drive.

“Four elderly people died and several fainted in a bid to collect free wheat flour in Multan, Muzaffargarh and Faisalabad cities during the last few days,” news agency PTI had quoted a senior official of the Punjab government as saying last week.

On Sunday, a dozen people were injured after a similar stampede broke out during a flour distribution drive at the Mardan Sports Complex in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Reports in Pakistani media quoted an eyewitness as saying that the stampede was a result of the police and local administration’s failure to control the crowd.

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Last week, as Pakistanis ushered in the first day of Ramzan, one person was killed and nine trampled as the result of a stampede at a local market in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa‘s Charsadda where hundreds had gathered to collect free flour.

Over the last year, the cost of wheat flour in Pakistan has increased by a whopping 120 per cent, coinciding with inflation which touched an all-time high of 46.7 per cent earlier this month.

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