Zahrah Nasir With somewhere in the region of seven million families existing on less than a dollar a day (Rs 85.761), the news that weekly inflation has just surged by a staggering 22 percent is shocking indeed. According to the Sensitive Price Index, rampant inflation hits lower income families much more than the wealthier segments of society and, it goes without saying, that it must surely hit those struggling to survive on less than a dollar a day the most ferociously. After all, how on earth can an average sized family of six, two adults and four children, manage to obtain enough nourishment on Rs 85 and less, plus pay for accommodation, transport, healthcare, clothing and other essentials such as water and electricity? This dire situation should give the affluent classes serious pause for thought, yet it does not appear to even prick their thick hides let alone their consciousness as they go about 'business as usual splashing out money on frivolities they grow tired of in less than a day. A recent sickening example in Karachi immediately springs to mind: A gaggle of women, who should know better but obviously dont, swamped the launch of the winter season line being launched by an up-market boutique, reportedly wiping out its entire stock of 400 shalwar kameez in a matter of minutes, despite the suits being priced at Rs 40,000 and above, whilst elbowing each other aside for the 'privilege They will probably wear their booty a mere half a dozen times at the very most, only the first two airings being in the ridiculously competitive company of their 'gang, the remainder in the privacy of their own plush homes, while doing necessary chores such as polishing their nails or perhaps arranging displays of expensive cut flowers, before handing them down to their grossly underpaid maids with never so much as a passing thought about the starving millions to whom Rs 40,000 is an unimaginable sum. Frankly speaking, my very first impression of Pakistan way back in 1983 when I first arrived was a horrified shock at the incredible divide between the rich and the poor. I had flown into what is now the Benazir Bhutto International Airport in the early hours of an August morning and 7am found me sitting on the edge of a Rawalpindi pavement, quite literally to be honest, hanging on to my backpack for dear life as I waited for an 8am bus to Peshawar. This was, admittedly, my introduction to this part of the world and I had not been properly briefed as to what to expect yet, even now, after so many years of being an actual national, I shudder at what I saw then: Three very large, ultra new cars swooped through the congested traffic as if they owned the place which, on reflection, they probably did. Forcing donkey carts and the kind of horse-drawn carriages one so rarely sees these days into the gutters in their passing and, this is what really got to me, actually knocking over an elderly woman carrying two huge baskets of tatty vegetables then speeding away without even stopping to see if she was hurt. She was hurt as it turned out and had to be half carried by onlookers to the side of the road and relative safety, while other onlookers dashed here and there through the vehicular mle trying to gather up her goods. I was stunned, shocked and, having just arrived from the West, extremely naive yet the cruel wrongness I felt then is still with me today as, basically, if anything the gap between rich and poor has widened rather than shrunk. Accepting that such inequalities are the norm here doesnt make, for me personally, them any easier to take and neither can I do anything to alter the current status quo on the necessary scale required, but my heart bleeds for the struggling poor, who are being ground down even further as the years go by. The seven million families, this number the result of a nationwide survey by the Benazir Income Support Programme, living in abject poverty on or below Rs 85 per day is a huge chunk of the population. Yet, in real terms, even this figure is incorrect. The internationally recognised level of abject poverty is currently that of $2 a day (Rs 171) not the $1 being used as a measure here and if the BISP survey had been carried out in accordance with this, then the figure of seven million would have at least doubled to 14 million, possibly more. The reason given for adhering to the outmoded classification is that of governmental financial constraints, the very same constraints which allow for unnecessarily expensive foreign trips by 'dignitaries and their free-booting entourages whose wives are liable to be amongst those happily, even determinedly, forking out Rs 40,000 and above for clothes they will rarely wear before disposing of them, however, they see fit. In a country where the majority of the workforce, legal and illegal both, often take home less than Rs 5,000 per month and are thus going increasingly hungry as day follows day, then surely it is way past time that something was done to redress the balance? The writer is a Murree-based freelance columnist.