BI Investigation: India’s food nightmare is killing millions of children across the country every day
Suchayan MandalFeb 27, 2017, 04.25 PM
India has emerged as the world’s fastest growing economy. However, Asia’s third largest economy just ranked 97th among 118 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) released by the
India’s policy addressing hunger and malnutrition in all age groups has a feast of questions and a famine of answers. India’s hunger, being worse than any sub-Saharan country, needs crisis management and a long term vision.
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India’s overall GDP growth is expected to end at 7.1% this financial year , as compared to 4.6% two years back. While food still counts as the basic requirement of human existence, India is a country that not only produces enough, but ironically, there is never enough for its ever growing population to eat. Funnily, while millions go hungry, for India storage of surplus food has always been a problem.
India’s hunger-management disaster
While development in many sectors is acknowledged, what is lesser known is that India has also made considerable progress on many social fronts, such as fertility decline, expansion of schooling and bridging the gender gap in education, especially at the primary and lower secondary levels. However, there is one area of human development , where India has been a disaster: tackling hunger and malnutrition.
Child malnutrition rates in India are extraordinarily high- among the highest in the world, with nearly one-half of all children under 3 years of age being either underweight or stunted. Indeed, child malnutrition rates are higher in India than in many countries of sub-Saharan
Prevalence of child malnutrition in India has remained stubbornly high even after nearly a half-century of respectable agricultural productivity growth and two decades of post-reform economic growth and prosperity in the country. Adding more support to the view that child malnutrition is weakly correlated with income is the finding that among children of mothers with 10 or more years of schooling as well as mothers from the top income quintile, around one-quarter are underweight. Even in a relatively prosperous and dynamic state like
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“Half of the children who die before five years of age have malnutrion as a cause in their pathogenesis. If we look at proportion of weight at birth, 23 per cent of children weigh less than 2.5 kg, which is below normal. This low birth weight has its reason in the womb, which is where they are malnourished already before being born. Low birth weight increases over time and so by the time they are three-years-old, half the children are malnourished. Because of poor sanitation we have widespread faecal oral contamination . Water and food sources have high degrees of contamination and it results in diarrhoea and other gastro intestinal illnesses, which increases the child mortality rate,” said renowned public health specialist and activist Dr
State of famine
In 1943, three million people died in the infamous Bengal famine . There was no shortage of grain in
Ignorant policies that do the most harm
Skyrocketing prices of daily food items spell more woe for the people, who are already paying "too much" to survive. International Fund for Agricultural Development’s (IFAD) Rural Poverty Report-2011 states, “While international food prices have declined since mid-2008, they are still substantially higher than prior to the price surge, and they are likely to remain at 2010 levels or higher for the next decade.” The report has suggested that about 100 million of world’s rural and urban people have to remain hungry.
“It will remain high, the era of cheap food is over," said
Due to the PDS (Public Distribution System) and the public wage programmes starvation deaths have definitely come down, he contended. Often we call cheap food grain programmes as populist. They are indeed popular as poor find them useful and their starvation is avoided with this entitlement.
“Roughly 33-35 per cent of the entire Indian population have a BMI below 18.5, which is indicative of calorie malnutrition. They aren't getting enough food to eat. More than one-third of India is on a chronic basis not getting proper food to eat. Low BMI is also restricting people’s immunity,” said Binayak Sen.
“Without addressing nutritional status, there can be no adequate development. Food Security Act does nothing for betterment of nutritional status of the poeple as such.
In villages, people stay in close bond with each other, who can be approached for help in times of crisis . Migrating people in cities start living in slums and ghettos, where they have to live with people unknown and untrustworthy. Moreover, people fight here to make ends meet, which actually leads to self-centric attitude.
Red corridor hunger
“People who are in chronic situation and stable famine are able to withstand only because of their access to natural resources like land, water and forest," opined Binayak Sen. " Access to this resources was unrestricted . Designating the common properties as commodities that can be owned by corporates is restricting poeple’s right to access and in a way right to live. Any form of resistance is labelled as insurgency. First they try civil ways and then take recourse in military measures. People have to confront. Application of eminent domain needs to be questioned. Under 5th schedule, govt has to ensure people’s access to natural resources but there is not a single instances of government intervening.”
“They have mapped it as red corridor but poeple’s deprivation hasn't been mapped yet," said Sen.
"We need to relook at the arm forces and UAPA laws. Whole discourse in election has become restricted to attitudes to development. Development is about accessing resources. Nobody is saying there are vital issues involved. What is going to happen to the poeple whose right has been denied? State will not be thwarted in its course. There needs to be a contestaion in the level of people. They need to raise the issue.”
Business Insider’s Take
Agriculture contributes around 16 per cent to India’s GDP ; it is coming down over the years. But still 60 per cent people depend on this. What does this mean? Is it that it is reliable as a source of livelihood or people don't have any other source thus depend on agriculture? In both the cases, shifting people out of agriculture is going to be a tough challenge. Industries or the service sectors have their own limitation and can't absorb such a huge number of people. Strategically, this will be a blunder as we kill out food self-sufficiency.