Worrying reversal in war on hunger

The world’s fight against hunger, starvation and undernourishment seems to be losing momentum. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, around 821 million people, or one in every nine people in the world, suffered chronic food deprivation in 2017. Food deprivation has risen for the third consecutive year, the UN agency pointed out in its latest report, State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018.This is a worrying negation of the positive trend that was witnessed a decade ago. Although the number of undernourished people in India has decreased, the country still accounts for the largest number of undernourished people in the world. One in every five undernourished persons in the world is in India. Decades ago, it was believed that hunger and starvation could be addressed if food production was increased. It prompted developing countries, including India, to launch the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution did boost food production. Developing countries were producing enough to feed their own rapidly-growing populations and even export the surplus. However, as the global hunger crisis indicates, this is a complex problem. For one, availability of food does not mean it is accessible to all. Besides, conflict, economic slowdown and extreme climatic events like droughts and floods, too, drive chronic food deprivation worldwide. While hunger and malnourishment are most acute in poor and developing countries, even developed countries are not completely free from these problems.

Hunger and malnutrition impact an individual’s life in various ways. Should a pregnant woman and/or her infant suffer from food insecurity or unreliable access to food, it contributes to child wasting and stunting. Insufficient intake of calories, proteins, vitamins and minerals slow down foetal, infant and child growth and development and increase the risk of stunting. In addition to impacting mental and physical growth, food insecurity undermines a child’s capacity to learn and, over the long-term, her capacity to earn a livelihood, become a mother, bear healthy children, etc. It is imperative, therefore, that the world steps up its fight against hunger and malnutrition.

An important problem that India and the world need to address is that of obesity. Obesity is often described as a problem of plenty, of eating too much, etc. It is not. Obesity results from eating the wrong kind of food, which often stems from poor access to nutritious food. It stems from food insecurity and contributes to a wide range of diseases, such as Type II diabetes in children and cardiovascular diseases. India has a number of food and nutrition programmes to reduce the impact of food insecurity. Corruption and lethargy are standing in the way of implementation of these programmes.

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