Eighteen killed in Pakistani stampede for food

KARACHI (Reuters) - Eighteen poor Pakistani women and children were killed on Monday in a stampede in the city of Karachi as they collected flour and other supplies being handed out as charity, police said.

Hundreds of women had gathered outside a building in a poor congested neighborhood and were pushing up some stairs when the accident happened.

One witness said people tumbled over each other when the lights on the stairs went off because of a power cut.

“As we were climbing up the stairs the power went off. I also fainted,” Seema Bibi, 13, told Reuters as she searched for relatives among the crowd.

Many Muslims give out free food to the poor in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, the most sacred month of the Islamic calendar, which is due to end next week.

About a third of Pakistan’s 170 million people live in poverty and rising prices and unemployment, frequent power cuts and shortages of staples such as flour over the past year have compounded the misery for many.

A civilian government which came to power last year after nine years of military rule has vowed to help the poor but faces tight budgets despite pledges of billions of dollars of aid from allies.

The government is also battling militant violence which contributed to a slide in investor confidence, exacerbating an economic crisis that forced Pakistan to agree to a $7.6 billion International Monetary Fund bail-out in November.

Food prices generally rise during Ramadan and hand-outs from the wealthy are a major source of relief for the poor.

Reporting by Imtiaz Shah; Writing by Faisal Aziz; Editing by Robert Birsel