islamabad, pakistan - Authorities in Pakistan said Friday that a stampede at a free-food distribution center in the southern port city of Karachi had killed at least 11 people and injured five others.
Local police and rescue workers in the impoverished country's largest city said the victims were mainly women and children.
The stampede occurred outside a Karachi factory where a distribution center for employees had been set up in connection with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Hundreds of people in the crowd, made up mostly of women, panicked and started pushing each other to collect food, with some falling into a nearby drain, witnesses and police said.
Friday's incident brought the death toll from stampedes at private- and government-funded food aid centers to at least 22 in recent days as Pakistanis struggle with soaring costs of basic staples and food items.
The South Asian nation of about 232 million people is suffering through one of its worse economic crises in decades.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's government rolled out a free-flour distribution project at the start of Ramadan to help millions of low-income families offset the impact of record-breaking inflation. Official estimates suggest inflation is running above 40%, a five-decade high, with the price of flour skyrocketing more than 45% in the past year.
The government initiative has resulted in thousands of people crowding distribution centers. Families say a lack of proper arrangements to accommodate large crowds in some districts has triggered deadly stampedes over fears of not being able to get the free flour.
Authorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces collectively reported 11 deaths as of Thursday. Thousands of bags of flour have also been looted from trucks and distribution points, according to officials.
People mourn next to the body of a relative who was killed in a stampede at a Ramadan food distribution center in Karachi, Pakistan, March 31, 2023.
The deadly rush underscored the desperation in the face of soaring costs, exacerbated by the falling rupee exchange rate and the removal of fuel subsidies. Government cuts were required for the International Monetary Fund to unlock the latest tranche of its financial support package.
Critics have slammed the government for launching the project without putting in place proper arrangements to ensure the safety of people.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan blamed what it said was the mismanagement of the flour distribution center for the deadly stampedes.
In a statement Friday, the watchdog described the Karachi incident as particularly alarming and demanded the government immediately improve the distribution system across the country.
"This situation is adding insult to injury for marginalized people of Pakistan who are braving the economic injustice perpetrated by the elites who dominate the state," the HRCP said.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.