Karachi, Pakistan – At least 11 people, including women and children, have died in a stampede at a Ramadan food distribution centre in Karachi, according to police and rescue officials. The incident occurred when hundreds of people gathered outside a factory to collect free food and panicked, pushing each other to reach the front of the line.
Stampede at Food Distribution Centre In Karachi
The stampede caused some people to fall into a nearby drain, while a wall also collapsed near the drain, injuring and killing more people. Local media reports that eight women and three children are among the dead. Several others were injured in the incident, which is the deadliest at Ramadan food distribution points since the start of the Muslim holy month of fasting last week.
Lack of Police Alert
Police official Mughees Hashmi said that the factory owner who organised the food distribution centre had not alerted the police about the plan, and local police were unaware of the distribution, otherwise they might have deployed forces. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari ordered authorities to investigate what caused the incident.
Rising Death Toll
With the latest incident, the death toll from stampedes at free food centres across the country has risen to at least 21 since last week. Millions of people in cash-strapped Pakistan are struggling to put food on the table as a cost of living crisis worsens, with the government launching an initiative last week to give free flour to low-income families during Ramadan to ease the impact of record-breaking inflation and soaring poverty.
IMF Loan Programme
Pakistan is facing one of the worst economic crises in its history, with the government struggling to keep the economy afloat. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has put forward a set of demands for the release of a $1.1bn instalment, including liberalising the rupee’s exchange rate, removing subsidies, and raising taxes. The government has been desperate to reach an agreement with the IMF to resume a $6.5bn loan programme that has been essentially suspended since November.
Prime Minister’s Visit
On Friday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif visited a wheat flour distribution centre in the capital, Islamabad, and met women who had come to collect flour. Sharif asked authorities to ensure that people are treated well and there are no further incidents. The day before the incident, authorities had ordered the deployment of additional police at Ramadan food distribution centres to avoid dangerous overcrowding.
The tragic incident highlights the desperate situation faced by millions of people in Pakistan as they struggle to put food on the table. While the government’s initiative to provide free food during Ramadan is well-intentioned, the lack of proper planning and coordination has led to dangerous overcrowding and deadly stampedes. The government must take urgent action to ensure the safety of those who rely on these food distribution centres, and work to address the underlying economic issues that are driving the crisis.