KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is experiencing one of the most challenging periods in its history due to higher inflation, which means increasing food prices and living costs.
Skyrocketing prices are forcing more Malaysians, especially those from the lower- and middle-income households to make tough decisions, from living in hunger to staying put at home, despite removal of Covid-19 movement restrictions to save on fuel and transport costs.
The New Straits Times learned that people are dealing with higher living costs through actions that could have devastating long-term consequences not only for their financial health, but also for their physical and mental health, children's nutrition, and early childhood development.
People are skipping meals voluntarily, reducing nutritious food intake, consuming smaller portions, and relying on instant noodles, bread, and biscuits to quell hunger.
These were among the responses shared across NST social media platforms yesterday when asked how people were coping with the rising costs of living (#NSTalkToUs).
"I am eating only two meals a day now. I still need to feed my baby, no matter how difficult life is now," a netizen wrote on Facebook.
"I shop for groceries at wholesale markets instead of supermarkets and I have cut back on outdoor dining. On top of that, we only run one air conditioner between 7pm and 7am," a comment read on Instagram.
"(I'm practicing) self-MCO. Stay at home. Live as though only essential shops are open. We do not want to live from hand to mouth, but we have no choice. If shops are open but we can't afford to purchase from them, then the shops are analogous to being closed," said another.
A Facebook user wrote: "Eat simple meals at home and eat out only when necessary."
"(The rising cost of living has) severely affected our livelihood! I'm surviving only on one miserable meal a day that costs RM5 per person.
"I don't eat out or leave the house unless for work. When at work, I just eat bread or biscuits for lunch.
"I have cut back on all unnecessary household items and food.
"We only buy what we need and cook only one dish a day. No unnecessary purchases are made. We also use packet cooking oil instead of bottled oil. Chicken, meat or fish are only cooked once a fortnight. We no longer buy prawns, crab, cuttlefish, calamari and other expensive seafood," others shared.
Another netizen said he had borrowed personal loans to survive.
"How should we cope? It (rising living costs) will only lead to more suicides and more crime. We adults can eat and spend less, but not the kids. They are still growing. They need to learn, explore, and eat healthy to grow. Please tell us how to cope. This is very frustrating and stressful. How can we live a stress-free, healthy life?" another asked.
Read more: How to cope with the rising cost of living?
Professor Dr Mohd Nazari Ismail from Universiti Malaya's Business and Economics Faculty had on May 28 warned that children from the B40 community in Malaysia are expected to be the most affected as parents would not be able to buy nutritious food, thus affecting their children's growth.
It was reported that Malaysia's inflation shot up fastest in nearly five years, pushing up the prices of essential items.
Prices of food items, including chicken and vegetables, increased by more than 10 per cent, hitting the middle-class hard, and the lower-paid harder.
On Tuesday, FSMOne research manager Jason Wong warned that Malaysians will be facing greater food security issues as food items, even eating out, will be more expensive, which might lead to a limited quantity being sold to consumers.
"Malaysians may have no choice but to start cutting expenses and tightening their budget to match their monthly income," Wong was quoted as saying.
The United Nations (UN) in its June 8 report titled 'Global impact of the war in Ukraine: Billions of people face the greatest cost-of-living crisis in a generation' described the situation across nations as the "largest cost-of-living crisis of the 21st century to date".
"Time is short to prevent a food crisis in 2023 in which we will have both a problem of food access and food availability.
"If the (Russia-Ukraine) war continues and high prices of grain and fertilisers persist into the next planting season, food availability will be reduced at the worst possible time, and the present crisis in corn, wheat and vegetable oil could extend to other staples, affecting billions more people," the report said.
The UN, however, said there is still time to act to contain the cost-of-living crisis and the human suffering it entails.
This, it said, included helping the most severely exposed countries help their poor and vulnerable populations, by increasing countries' fiscal space and liquidity access so that they can strengthen social protection systems and safety nets and hence enhance the ability of people to deal with adversity.
Malaysia's Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz had recently announced that this year's subsidy bill is expected to be RM80 billion, which is the largest in the country's history.
In the 100th People's Financial Report, he said to reduce inflationary pressure on the people, the government provided consumption subsidies for petrol, diesel, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), cooking oil, flour and electricity.
On June 27, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Economy), Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said the government is willing to bear the projected huge subsidy totalling RM77.3 billion for this year towards stabilising the prices of goods and avoiding high inflation rates of up to 11.4 per cent.
Read more: New task force to address inflation