The hunger conundrum
The latest edition of the Global Hunger Index has exposed significant gaps in India’s efforts to eliminate hunger — efforts that are already being undermined by the pandemic
Good day' for a hungry person is at least two square meals a day. 'Aatmanirbhar' means nothing to them if the ruling establishment cannot create a condition in which the hungry can fill up their stomach. Global Hunger Index 2020 has exposed the hollowness of the six years of sloganeering began with the great promise of 'good days', followed by countless others, with the latest fad of 'Aatmanirbhar' Bharat. The Government excels in sloganeering but India still suffers from a level of hunger that is serious. It ranks 94th along with the African country Sudan among the 107 countries having incidences of hunger. Only 12 countries of the world performed worse than our own. Even all countries in South Asia are performing better on the ground. We have scored far below the world average.
When the country passed on the baton to our new PM in 2014, the GHI of that year had praised India for bringing the country out of 'alarming' level of incidence of hunger within 10 years, though it was categorised as 'serious'. India ranked above Bangladesh and Pakistan but trailed behind even Nepal and Sri Lanka. Now we are trailing behind all the countries in South Asia. It shows the priority of our
Government that has been boastful regarding the bigger size of the economy and growth rate.
Thus, India has lost six precious years towards a goal of zero hunger level in the country. We have only one decade left with us to achieve this as per the Millennium Social Development Goals to achieve it by 2030. It could be achieved only by linking health and sustainable food systems, which unfortunately our Government has not been focusing on. The three-dimensions — inadequate food supply, child mortality, and child undernutrition — of calculation of hunger, and the four indicators — undernourishment, under-five mortality rate, stunting, and wasting of children, are pointing towards the incidence of increased levels of poverty in the country. Increase in the Incidence of the prevalence of wasting in children under five in the last six years clearly shows that our children are not getting sufficient level of nourishment, a clear indication of an increase in the level of poverty, despite all claim of good governance of our present ruling establishment. It also must be noted that children can never be 'aatmanirbhar', they are dependent on others.
The GHI also mentions the impact of COVID-19 and the associated curfews, because of which thousands of migrant workers have lost their livelihoods and depend for foods on others. In India, as in many other countries, the pandemic is aggravating an already serious hunger situation, the report emphasised.
South Asia's child stunting rate is still quite high at 33.2 per cent in 2019, down from 51.3 per cent in 2000. Average stunting rate in India is 30 per cent with some states approaching 45 per cent. The key factors that contribute to stunting in the region are poor infant and young child feeding practices, poor nutrition among women before and during pregnancy, and poor sanitation practices. Studies done in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan show that it is concentrated among children from households facing multiple forms of deprivation, including poor dietary diversity, low levels of maternal education and household poverty.
The unacceptably high level of child mortality in the region needs improvement in child nutrition. India, the region's most populous country, experienced a decline in under-five mortality, but only marginally. That too is largely driven by decreases in deaths from birth asphyxia or trauma, neonatal infections, pneumonia, and diarrhoea. However, child mortality caused by prematurity and low birthweight increased in poorer states and rural areas. It indicates that our country needs better antenatal care, education, and nutrition, as well as reductions in anaemia and oral tobacco use.
In 11 countries, the public health significance of child wasting rates is considered 'high' or 'very high'. India's child wasting rate at 17.3 comes under 'very high'. It is the worst country in the world for this category. Only Yemen and Sri Lanka are in this 'very high' category. Even Sudan, that ranks equal to India in GHI, has a far better score at 14.3 per cent.
The GHI has warned about several other threats that may hinder the progress in attaining zero level of hunger within a decade. One of them is the spread of swarms of locust. A swarm measuring one square kilometre can contain up to 80 million adult locusts with the capacity to consume the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people. Given that swarms can travel up to 150 km a day, the risk is high that the locusts will spread not only across Africa but across the Indian Ocean to join the swarms already spreading in India and Pakistan.
The adverse impact of COVID-19, its containment measures, and lockdowns that brought the economy at grinding halt has already created an unprecedented economic crisis in India. Millions of people have already been pushed under the poverty line due to loss of livelihoods. It has aggravated the crisis of hunger. The stimulus packages announced by the Government are infested with inbuilt problems of successful implementation. Government is keeping an eye on its own income and ignoring the real well being of the people. Loans are given to the street vendors and other small retailers at exorbitant rates. The Government has even announced that it would not support the loan guarantee scheme for MSMEs beyond October. Prices in the market are increasing day by day, with dwindling individual incomes. All these are indicative of worsening situation which may push hunger from the present 'serious' to 'alarming' level in the near future unless the Government amends its policies relating to the working class including farmers who have been made more vulnerable with new provisions.
Views expressed are personal