SPOTLIGHT: Superpower? 230 million Indians go hungry daily - Subodh Varma, The Times of India; Jan 15, 2012
Malnourished children eat a meal at the Apanalay center, an organization working with malnourished children, in Mumbai. 42% of children under 5 in India are underweight and nearly 60% are stunted, according to a survey carried out bu Hunger and Malnutrition.
With 21% of its population undernourished, nearly 44% of under-5 children underweight and 7% of them dying before they reach five years, India is firmly established among the world's most hunger-ridden countries. The situation is better than only Congo, Chad, Ethiopia or Burundi, but it is worse than Sudan, North Korea, Pakistan or Nepal.
This is according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) which combines the above three indicators to give us a Global Hunger Index (GHI) according to which India is 67th among the worst 80 countries in terms of malnourishment.
That's not all. Data collected by GHI researchers shows that while there has been some improvement in children's malnutrition and early deaths since 1990, the proportion of hungry in the population has actually gone up.
Today India has 213 million hungry and malnourished people by GHI estimates although the UN agency Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) puts the figure at around 230 million. The difference is because FAO uses only the standard calorie intake formula for measuring sufficiency of food while the Hunger Index is based on broader criteria.
NUTRITION SCHEMES NEED TO BE EXPANDED
Whichever way you slice it and dice it, the shameful reality is inescapable - India is home to the largest number of hungry people, about a quarter of the estimated 820 million in the whole world.
The National Family and Health Survey (NFHS), last carried out in 2004-05, had shown that 23% of married men, 52% of married women and a chilling 72% of infants were anemic - a sure sign that a shockingly large number of families were caught in a downward spiral of slow starvation.
Global research has now firmly established that depriving the fetus of essential nutrients - as will happen in an under-nourished pregnant woman - seals the fate of the baby once it is born. It is likely to suffer from susceptibility to diseases and physical retardation, as also to mental faculties getting compromised.
So, continuing to allow people to go hungry and malnourished, is not just more misery for them: it is the fate of future generations of Indians in balance.
What can be done to fix this unending tragedy? The government already runs two of world's biggest nutrition programmes: the midday meal scheme for students up to class 12 and the anganwadi programme under which infants and children up to 6 are given "hot cooked" meals.
These need to be spread further and more resources pumped in to tackle weaknesses. For instance, a report by the anganwadi workers' federation revealed that as many as 73,375 posts of anganwadi workers and 16,251 posts of supervisors are lying vacant. But the biggest contribution to fighting hunger would be providing universal coverage of the PDS with adequate amounts of grain, pulses and edible oils included.