Friday, October 31, 2008

Earthquake Relief And Pakistanis' Addiction To Tea

Apropos of NB's post on earthquake donations and the reactions to them, I would like to clear some things up.

First of all, questioning the need for tea to be delivered to earthquake survivors makes me neither a "scrooge" nor an "insensitive jerk". The pro-tea argument, it seems to me, is based on the following two premises:

1. Donations should not be restricted to "essential" items.
2. Tea can help people in cold weather feel warmer.

With regard to number two, I am sure blankets and tents can do a better job, and furthermore, are a more permanent solution (the quantity of tea available decreases after each use, but a tent or a blanket don't go anywhere even if you use them 1000 times).

As for number one, I don't really understand the objection. Look, there are scarce resources in the world at the best of times, and that scarcity is multiplied manifold during times of crisis. With that in mind, with resources totaling some value R, you can either

1. Buy essential items E for N people such that E*N=R.


2. Buy essential items E and nonessential items O for M people such that E*M + O*M=R, where M is less than N.


3. Buy essential items S and nonessential items O for N people such that S*N + O*N=R, where S is less than E.

In other words, if you start buying nonessential items for survivors with fixed resources, you either have to cut back on the number of people you're helping, or you have to cut back on the amount of essential items you're providing. There's no other way, and frankly, neither of those alternatives are worth it. Why does pointing out this fact make me an insensitive jerk? It's simple arithmetic.

On one level, this entire issue isn't really a big deal, because I doubt tea makes up more than 1% of the dollar amount spent by these charitable organizations, so arguing about it is quite futile. On another level however, it's very relevant in bringing up a fairly important issue: Pakistanis' addiction to tea.

As any Pakistani knows, we as a nation cannot do without this stuff. It is the one thing that unites us. Think about it: across religious, ethnic, provincial, gender, and socioeconomic lines, is there ANYTHING ELSE that all Pakistanis do? No, there isn't. I challenge our readers to name five Pakistanis they know on a first-name basis who don't drink at least two cups a day. I know for a fact I would fail this challenge.

What's the big deal, you say? Well, far be it from me to question people's private habits and preferences, but this is a national interest issue. Pakistan grows about as much tea as Antarctica, which is to say, none at all. We import it all.

How much do we import? Well, let's delve into some fun figures. Here's a recent statistical report on Pakistan's trade imbalance. You will find, if you go to page 26 of the report, that Pakistan imported 1.2 billion rupees worth of tea in the month of April 2008. Multiply that by 12, and you discover that Pakistan will import close to Rs. 15 billion worth of tea in 2008. That represents, by my calculations, more than one-tenth of our annual food-and-live-animals import bill.

Furthermore, this ignores all the sugar that goes into Pakistanis' tea, all the milk that goes into Pakistanis' tea, and, most importantly, all the water that goes into Pakistanis' tea. Think about how much weaker our sugar lobby would be if Pakistanis suddenly decided to stop drinking tea tomorrow. Think about how much clean drinking water we would save if Pakistanis suddenly decided to stop drinking tea tomorrow.

Of course, because we're addicted to tea, that is merely a pipe dream. But this isn't any old harmful addiction. Unlike hashish and heroin, Pakistan actually has to import the object of its citizens' addiction when it comes to tea. Importing something on the scale that we do with tea, when we don't need to, in times of economic peril and dwindling foreign exchange reserves that force us to go begging bowl in hand to the IMF, is a travesty.


NA said...

I couldn’t agree more regarding our addiction to tea. Thanks for running the numbers on our tea imports. Now I have something to back my claim up next time I tell friends/family what a waste of money it is. I'm sure I'll still be ignored and laughed at but that's besides the point.

AKS said...

Point well made. I certainly agree with you on this but I'm not too sure about legislating against tea. I don't think the government has any right to interfere in the private lives of its citizens.

BUT, you make a good case against tea being just a private good; it really is a public menace.
Moreover, its hypocritical for a nation of tea addicts to impose quasi prohibition in the country - especially when we can, and do, make our own booze and even export it!

(By the way, India's started selling tea to Pakistan and is looking at us as a major market for their tea. I'm sure that went down well with our scotch sipping generals!)

I'm going to digress a little here. I was speaking with N (who frequently comments on the blog) the other day and the conversation turned to Bill Maher who we both found obnoxious but whose new film we quite like. Bill Maher led us to a brief dialogue on libertarianism. At this point N mentioned that American libertarians are a little screwed up, or something to this effect. I could see her point, she's a big government liberal. I think that she may not have realized, and which I didn't have time to bring up at the time, is that I've certainly moved, somewhat, away from from the world of big government liberalism to the kooky world of libertarianism.

Don't ask me how this happened, it just did, I'm sure living as an adult in Pakistan had something to do with it.

Just wanted to get it off my chest. Thanks for the therapy fiverupees.

Ahsan said...


Ignored and laughed at? You should become a blogger.


I never said anything about legislating against the consumption of tea.

naqiya said...

i'm listening aks (even though ahsan totally ignored your "confession")

also: ahsan, i dont drink tea. at all, ever.

Smallville rulz said...

good article however i am sick of you and all other people saying that we are wasteful of our resources.u want us to stop importing u will say that we shouldnt breathe air becuz air increases our import bill ha ha.just let us drink tea.we dunt grow coffee and cofee is way more expensive.give us an alternative then instead of saying that we waste our money by importing tea(i pay for my tea so there is no need for emotional blackmail) so have some alternative before writing a blog.

AKS said...

Bhang! It's as addictive and its all home grown.

smaville rulz said...

but it doesnt stimulate the brain and reduces productivity

Rabia said...

we should reduce imports and start with marlboro reds. What's up with every Pakistani teenager smoking them these days. what's wrong with gold leaf and K2

Ahsan said...


Gold Leaf, fine. K2? You must be joking. Have you ever smoked one of those? If, for whatever reason, you happen upon emptying the contents of a cigarette one day, please choose K2. The colors and textures that you will face are almost literally out of this world.

Rabia said...

yup, I was being slightly... facetious. But I do agree with your general point about reducing imports of consumer goods. The question is, how.

Islamoblogger said...

Excellent point about the tea and the consumption habits of the Pakistani populace.

But let's just look at your point of Pakistan's need to import. I would hope the Pakistani gov't had the galls to understand that if we are spending, as you say, ~10% of our food budget on tea imports, than it would be wise for our gov't to take a proactive step to reduce the amount of money flowing out of the country and subsidize tea growth. If we can reduce our payouts for tea, it could do wonders for our national budget, and could do wonders for the food prices.

Of course, can we ever count on the government to be procative on anything that matters to the people? Of course not.

But it's sad when we have a climate capable of its growth, but unable to begin somekind of production.

Being self-sustaining is what strong economies are built on. If our government realized this, we could finally take a step in the right direction.

Laila said...

I never ever drink tea...except for thos chai tea lattes at starbucks (and I don't think those count). So now you know two non-tea drinkers (Naqiya and I). I'm sure I could find more...