Feed the hungry

Overall undernourishment is still high.

The hunger index for 2012, constructed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), has again confirmed India’s lowly position, placing it in the 65th position  among  79 countries.   In South Asia, it finds itself  in a group, where the situation is considered to be “alarming’’,  along with Nepal and Bangladesh. Pakistan, which is extremely poor, and Sri Lanka are ranked higher than India, though the performance of all countries in South Asia is relatively bad. Generally   they are all in the category of sub-Saharan Africa which is considered the least socially and economically developed part of the world. What is shocking and embarrassing is that India has made hardly any progress in reducing general undernourishment in the last two decades which saw high economic growth. Three factors that form the basis of the hunger index are nourishment and weight and mortality rate of children under five. Though children’s nourishment  level and mortality rate have improved, the overall undernourishment is still high. In fact  when  all the factors are taken into consideration, India’s hunger index is the same as that in 1996.

The reasons are obvious. Economic development has not had any major positive impact on the standards of life in the lowest strata of society in terms of basic requirements. The availability of food is low, in spite of the existence of huge buffer stocks of food grains. Whatever is available  is not distributed efficiently and according to the requirements of people.  The number of deaths  from hunger is more than those caused by some major ailments. Basic health facilities are yet to reach those who need them. The  levels  of hunger within the country, as indicated by the state hunger index, vary widely. When Madhya Pradesh is at the bottom, even states like  Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana which are considered wealthy, and Kerala, which boasts of a high human development index, are badly affected.

While high hunger levels are a matter of concern,  what is more worrying is that there is no progress in improving the situation. India has not been able to match the pace of even smaller countries in the neighbourhood like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in its efforts to reduce hunger.   The country has to frame better strategies to make development more socially inclusive and to take it to the large majority of people who have not benefiitted from it. The trickle-down theory of development has its limits.

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