Sunday, December 14, 2008

South Asia's War on Hunger Takes a Back Seat

Calls to "do a Lebanon" to fight terror are being made vociferously by the Indian media as they have focused the national and international attention on Mumbai terrorist attacks that targeted two opulent hotels and a small Jewish center in India's financial capital. The need for war on poverty and hunger has never succeeded in getting the kind of media spotlight in India that now shines brightly on the urge to punish Pakistan for its alleged misdeeds in Mumbai and to redefine Kashmir issue as one of terrorism. Meanwhile, the daily death and injury toll from widespread hunger in India continues to be much higher than the tragic results of the murder and mayhem in Mumbai.

Indian author Arundhati Roy recently brought attention to the tale of two Indias and India's real problems in an OpEd piece for the Guardian newspaper in the following words: "On a day when the newspapers were full of moving obituaries by beautiful people about the hotel rooms they had stayed in, the gourmet restaurants they loved (ironically one was called Kandahar), and the staff who served them, a small box on the top left-hand corner in the inner pages of a national newspaper (sponsored by a pizza company I think) said "Hungry, kya?" (Hungry eh?). It then, with the best of intentions I'm sure, informed its readers that on the international hunger index, India ranked below Sudan and Somalia. But of course this isn't that war. That one's still being fought in the Dalit bastis of our villages, on the banks of the Narmada and the Koel Karo rivers; in the rubber estate in Chengara; in the villages of Nandigram, Singur, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Lalgarh in West Bengal and the slums and shantytowns of our gigantic cities."

Ms. Roy was referring to the hunger index published each year by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute to rank countries based on three leading indicators - prevalence of child malnutrition, rate of child mortality, and the proportion of people who are calorie deficient. India ranks 66th on the 2008 Global Hunger Index of 88 countries while Pakistan is slightly better at 61 and Bangladesh slightly worse at 70.

Indian media's headlines about the newly-minted Indian billionaires need to bring sharper focus on the growing rich-poor gap in India. On its inside pages, The Times of India has reported Communist Party leader Sitaram Yechury's as saying that "on the one hand, 36 Indian billionaires constituted 25% of India’s GDP while on the other, 70% of Indians had to do with Rs 20 a day". "A farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes. The gap between the two Indias is widening," he said.

In spite of heavy visa restrictions and quotas imposed by many nations around the world, about a million Indians manage to leave India in search of a better life.

"The major threat of hunger is in 33 countries including India," the IFRI report said, adding that rising food prices pose serious threats for malnourished people in these regions. The report calculated hunger levels for 17 major states in India, representing more than 95 percent of the population. Twelve states fall into the ‘alarming’ category and Madhya Pradesh was reported to have an ‘extremely alarming’ level of hunger. The first India State Hunger Index (Ishi) this year found that Madhya Pradesh had the most severe level of hunger in India, comparable to Chad and Ethiopia. Four states — Punjab, Kerala, Haryana and Assam — fell in the 'serious' category. "Affluent" Gujarat, 13th on the Indian list is below Haiti, ranked 69. The authors said India's poor performance was primarily due to its relatively high levels of child malnutrition and under-nourishment resulting from calorie deficient diets.

"Despite years of robust economic growth, India scored worse than nearly 25 sub-Saharan African countries and all of South Asia, except Bangladesh," the report says.

Can the two major South Asian neighbors get their priorities straight to end terror and mutual conflict to focus on fighting hunger and poverty? I am hoping and praying that they do.

Please make your contribution to the Hunger Project or Hidaya Foundation or Edhi Foundation to help alleviate hunger and poverty in South Asia.

Related Links:

21st Century Challenges for Resurgent India

Mumbai's Economic Impact

India's Republic of Hunger

The Challenge of Hunger 2008


Anonymous said...

can the two major South Asian neighbors get their priorities straight to end terror
You should appreciate the fact that Mumbai train bombings all the way leading to Kabul attack had all markings of ur intel agency + their toys LeT & HuJi.
But for some strange reason, UPA govt(Congress) needed a bloodshed on this scale to wake up from denial. In Kabul attack too, British, Americans(CIA), Afghans(Riyast-i-Amniyat-i-Milli) and India(RAW) simultaneously intercepted chatter between ISI field officers and LeT car bombers. Terror and comparing apples and oranges. Sponsoring terror in neighboring country and when confronted with accusation talks about poverty eradication or themselves being a "victim" of terror is disingenuous.

Riaz Haq said...


I think it's disingenuous of you to suggest that there is no link between poverty/deprivation and terror. Intelligence agencies such as RAW, CIA, Mossad and ISI rely on low-level young recruits to "die for a cause", whether it is in Sri Lanka, India, Palestine, Kashmir, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan or anywhere else. Even your own state of Kerala that you often brag about often has a serious hunger problem, according to IFRI's data. And your favorite chief minister Modi's state of Gujarat ranks below lowly Haiti in hunger and poverty.

Please try and learn more about the causes of terror when you talk about your favorite culprits. Just dealing with the symptoms without addressing the root causes will be an exercise in futility.

Wake up and smell the lentils.

Ray Lightning said...

Mr Haq

Here is Abdul Subhan Qureshi : senior computer engineer who is a terror mastermind in India.

He is neither poor nor uneducated.

What about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who did Mechanical Engineering in North Carolina ?

What about Ayman Al Zawahari who is a trained pharmacologist coming from a family of doctors and physicians ?

What about Prof Hafiz Saeed who was a senior professor in Islamic studies ?

What about Osama bin Laden ?

Saying terrorism is the same as poverty is a disgrace to the millions of poor people who live their lives with a dignity amidst misery.

Ray Lightning said...

And here is Mohammed Mansoor Peerbhoy who was working as a senior employee in Yahoo! Bangalore while he was moonlighting as a terrorist.

Riaz Haq said...

Ray Lightening,
You mention the names of leaders and masterminds of terror. They are usually ideologically driven. But where do they get the tens of thousands of recruits for their evil deeds? Do you think Kasab is a well-educated person? How about the dozens in Guantanamo and thousands languishing in Indian jails charged with terror? Are they all well-educated? Please think about it.

Ray Lightning said...

We are talking about cause and effect here. Your blog conveys the impression that poverty and subjugation are the cause of terror, which is clearly wrong.

Hatred is the cause of terror. This hatred is inherent to certain people.

Poverty or illiteracy only add fuel to a fire, that is already burning.

We in India are trying to eradicate poverty and illiteracy. We are a democratic state and every citizen is equal under law, under a constitution that which criminalizes any form of discrimination based on race, religion, caste, language or creed. Of course, we are not perfect, but no one is.

Whatever discrimination or subjugation faced by Muslims is an "abuse" of the law, which can be and should be dealt in a civil / criminal court of law.

Equating the Indian state to being a cause of terror is clearly outrageous.

Riaz Haq said...

Ray Lightening,
You are continuing to defend India in a very partisan way rather than talk about the causes of terror everywhere. It is a well understood fact of social engineering that eradicating poverty and establishing social justice reduces strife in any society, whether it is India, Pakistan, China or the US or anywhere else. It is clear that India has seen some of greatest inequalities in its society recently. Obscene wealth and abject poverty are seen juxtaposed in Mumbai more than any other place in the world. It is in India's best interest to deal with it on an urgent basis. Going to war or using war rhetoric against Pakistan will only postpone solution to these urgent problems in both nations.

Ray Lightning said...

I am defending the Indian state, true. But I am not defending the Indian politics.

Terrorism and income disparity are not correlated. You can check out the GINI index of the world countries here. India (or Pakistan) are about as egalitarian as European countries. There are higher income disparities in China, and even worse in Brazil.

We want to eliminate poverty, but hiding the shame of terrorism under this veil is clearly not warranted.

Also, nobody in India cares to go to war with Pakistan. What would we achieve ? Mutual assured destruction.

If you remember correctly, Indian leaders across the political spectrum, wanted Musharaf to hold elections. They all offered immediate condolences after Benazir's death (even though she is not particularly pro-India). We in India want a strong and stable Pakistan. Strengthening the Pakistani state is a key strategic initiative for India. We cannot afford to have a troublesome and volatile border.

If you remember correctly, all the wars that we have fought, were initiated by Pakistan. If we ever have a future war, the persons responsible for starting it, will be operating from Rawilpindi. It is time the Pakistani people realized this.

Riaz Haq said...

Europeans don't have hunger and abject poverty like India. Brazil and China are much higher on the hunger index than India.

There is simply no comparison there.

Your denial of link between hunger/poverty and terror does not make sense. People who don't have a stake in society don't care for its peace and stability. This is a basic human trait. Successful economic systems and societies recognize this fact and try to deal with it through social engineering. With globalization, social strife is no longer contained within national boundaries. It spills over into the streets of Mumbai, Paris, London, Karachi, Islamabad, Washington, New York etc.

Diganta said...

Your headline is about South Asia and whole text talks only about India. That's not fair :)

Riaz Haq said...

With Pakistan ranked 61, India 66 and Bangladesh 70 on a list of 88 countries, South Asia has a long way to go to properly feed its people. The continuing India-Pakistan tensions will only distract the region's governments and people from the war on hunger.

Ray Lightning said...

Indian poverty is reducing rapidly You can see a steeper fall after 1990 when the economy started to liberalize. Going by this graph, poverty will be completely eradicated in 30 years.

Thanks to the successful Green revolution, India is already a net-exporter of food. As demonstrated by Dr Amartya Sen, hunger has more to do with access to food than the availability of food.

As I said earlier, hunger/poverty have very little to do with terrorism. A more thorough analysis on the anatomy of terrorism is in my blog.

Riaz Haq said...

30 years? How many generations is that? What about abject poverty and hunger? Can the hungry survive for 30 years in "Shining India"?

On the question of link between hunger and terror, I respectfully disagree with you. The way to "drain the swamp that breeds terrorist" is not by the naked use of force, but a comprehensive political and social solution to the problems of violence terrorism.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's the latest report on India's right to food bill:

The members have expresses their shock by the EGoM draft bill which does not address any of the nutritional needs of the people. This draft is not only a betrayal of the people of India but also is in contempt of the letter and spirit of the orders of the Supreme Court in the right to food case. This draft completely ignores the multiple entitlements which constitute the right to food of all ages of people and all sections of society including vulnerable groups.

The single entitlement proposed by the EGoM in the name of food security of the people by provisioning for only 25 kgs per household is in fact less than what is the current entitlement of 35 kgs which has been mandated by Supreme Court orders. A legislation that promises a “right” but in reality reduces the existing entitlement is completely unacceptable to the people of India and an affront on their dignity.

To make matters worse, the proposed Bill seeks to restrict this “entitlement” further to just BPL families (as per Planning Commission estimates). As you are undoubtedly aware, child malnutrition rates in India at 46% is amongst the highest in the world, and twice the rate of child malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover we have an unconsciably and shamefully high maternal mortality, a large part of which is attributable to the malnutrition amongst women.

Nothing short of a universal entitlement for the Public Distribution System would suffice to change the existing situation. Every adult resident of the country must be covered by the PDS with entitlements of 14 kgs of cereals (including nutritious millets) per month at Rs 2 per kilogram, 1.5 kilogram of pulses at Rs 20 per kg and 800 gms of cooking oil at Rs 35 per kg with children getting half the entitlements and the ration cards made in the name of female head of the household.
A universal entitlement for food is the only way that the country can ensure food security for all.

Replacing food entitlements by cash will not bring about any food security to individuals instead the entire purpose of ensuring food and nutritional security will be defeated.

India is reeling under the worst food inflation in the last three decades and are dismayed at your Government's refusal to bring down prices. At such a time this bill makes a further mockery of growing hunger and malnutrition.

People are perturbed by the fact that the announcement of an inadequate and exclusionary PDS entitlement by the EGoM happened just when the Justice Wadhwa Committee report, which talks of an expansion of the PDS entitlement, was submitted to the Supreme Court. The timing chosen by the EGoM seems to be an attempt to sabotage the Supreme Court proceedings in the right to food case.

The multiple legal entitlements guaranteed by the Supreme Court of India already grant the right of 35kgs of food grains per household along with other entitlements such as reduced prices for the PDS grain under Antyodaya Anna Yojana forvulnerable sections of society, supplementary nutrition for infants and young children under ICDS, maternity entitlements under NMBS and Janini Suraksha Yojana, school mid-day meals, old age pensions and addressing needs of the homeless and urban poor, streetchildren, single women and infants under six months.
The members have urge PM to intervene immediately to ensure that the National Food Security Act creates multiple entitlements, as outlined above. The Act must also create an enabling environment for promoting food production by prioritising people’s control over productive resources including land, forests and water. No diversion of these resources must be allowed as large sections of the people of this country only survive on access to these natural resources.

Riaz Haq said...

In rural Pakistan where about 70% of Pakistanis live, people spend 55% of their income on food, according to a World Resources Institute (WRI) report.

The bottom two BOP (Bottom of Income Pyramid) groups alone account for more than 50% of national food spending in Pakistan. Average annual food spending per household in the BOP in Pakistan is $2,643. While BOP3000 households have 6 times as much income on average, they outspend BOP500 households in the food market by a ratio of only 2:1 in Cameroon, 2.3:1 in South Africa and Pakistan, 2.4:1 in Kazakhstan, 1.9:1 in Uzbekistan, and 3:1 in Peru.

Currently, food inflation in Pakistan is running at 15.49 percent, hitting the poor the hardest.

According to a recent Daily Times report, Non-perishable food item prices increased 14.76 percent whereas perishable food items recorded 21.30 percent increase in their prices.

Fuel & lighting index rose 20.19 percent during January this over the last year whereas house rent index posted 13.38 increase this month.

Transport & communication index rose 9.43 percent, education expenses increased 13.68 percent and medical expenses increased 5.88 percent.

The detailed analysis of the SPI prices for Jan-10 reveals that few items, within the food category, were observed to post over 100bps MoM increase in prices. Sugar (1.92 percent weight in the CPI) remained exceptional with 19 percent MoM increase and food prices (40.3 percent weight in the CPI) contributed passively this time around to the CPI in Jan-10 due to being relatively stable.

Riaz Haq said...

India ranks 67, far worse than Pakistan's ranking of 52 on the world hunger index 2010 report published recently, according to a Times of India report.

China is rated much ahead of India at the ninth place, while Pakistan is at the 52nd place on the 2010 Global Hunger Index, released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in association with a German group Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe.

In India, the high Index scores are driven by high levels of child underweight resulting from the low nutritional and social status of women in the country, the report pointed out, adding that India alone accounts for a large share of the world's undernourished children, the IFPRI report said.

India is home to 42% of the world's underweight children, while Pakistan has just 5%, it added.

Among other neighbouring countries, Sri Lanka was at the 39th position and Nepal ranked 56 by index. Bangladesh listed at the 68th position.

"The economic performance and hunger levels are inversely correlated. In South and Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Timor-Leste are among countries with hunger levels considerably higher than their gross national income (GNI) per capita," the IFPRI report said.

"Undernutrition in the first two years of life threatens a child's life and can jeopardise physical, motor and cognitive development. It is therefore of particular importance that we take concerted action to combat hunger, especially among young children," the report stressed.

It further said that the global food security is under stress. Although the world's leaders, through the first Millennium Development Goal, adopted a goal of halving the proportion of hungry people between 1990 and 2015, "we are nowhere near meeting that target."

"The 2010 world Global Hunger Index (GHI) shows some improvement over the 1990 world GHI, falling from 19.8 points to 15.1 or by almost one-quarter. The index for hunger in the world, however, remains serious," it noted.

In recent years, however, the number of hungry people has actually been increasing. In 2009, on the heels of a global food price crisis and in the midst of worldwide recession, the number of undernourished peopled surpassed one billion, although recent estimates by the UN body Food and Agriculture Organisation suggest that the number will have dropped to 925 million in 2010, it added.

Read more: India ranks below China, Pak in global hunger index - The Times of India

Riaz Haq said...

In a week that saw India put on the Commonwealth Games extravaganza costing $7.5 billion, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) released its World Hunger Index 2010 report calling India's hunger situation "alarming", and including it with 29 other mostly sub-Saharan African nations.

India ranks 67, far worse than Pakistan's ranking of 52 among 84 nations on the world hunger index 2010 report published recently, according to a Times of India report.

On a scale ranging from low level hunger to extremely alarming, the hunger situation in Sri Lanka and Pakistan is rated as serious, and the rest of South Asia, including India, the situation is considered alarming.

While Pakistan's hunger index score improved over the last three year since 2008 from 21.7 (2008) to 21.0 (2009) to 19.1 (2010) and its ranking rose from 61 to 58 to 52, India's index score worsened from 23.7 to 23.9 to 24.1 and its ranking moved from 66 to 65 to 67 on a list of 84 nations.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's BBC's Soutik Biswas's review of a book "Churchill's Secret War" by journalist Madhusree Mukherjee offering evidence that Churchill "starved India" in 1940s:

It is 1943, the peak of the Second World War. The place is London. The British War Cabinet is holding meetings on a famine sweeping its troubled colony, India. Millions of natives mainly in eastern Bengal, are starving. Leopold Amery, secretary of state for India, and Field Marshal Sir Archibald Wavell, soon to be appointed the new viceroy of India, are deliberating how to ship more food to the colony. But the irascible Prime Minister Winston Churchill is coming in their way.

"Apparently it is more important to save the Greeks and liberated countries than the Indians and there is reluctance either to provide shipping or to reduce stocks in this country," writes Sir Wavell in his account of the meetings. Mr Amery is more direct. "Winston may be right in saying that the starvation of anyhow under-fed Bengalis is less serious than sturdy Greeks, but he makes no sufficient allowance for the sense of Empire responsibility in this country," he writes.

Some three million Indians died in the famine of 1943. The majority of the deaths were in Bengal. In a shocking new book, Churchill's Secret War, journalist Madhusree Mukherjee blames Mr Churchill's policies for being largely responsible for one of the worst famines in India's history. It is a gripping and scholarly investigation into what must count as one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the Empire.

The scarcity, Mukherjee writes, was caused by large-scale exports of food from India for use in the war theatres and consumption in Britain - India exported more than 70,000 tonnes of rice between January and July 1943, even as the famine set in. This would have kept nearly 400,000 people alive for a full year. Mr Churchill turned down fervent pleas to export food to India citing a shortage of ships - this when shiploads of Australian wheat, for example, would pass by India to be stored for future consumption in Europe. As imports dropped, prices shot up and hoarders made a killing. Mr Churchill also pushed a scorched earth policy - which went by the sinister name of Denial Policy - in coastal Bengal where the colonisers feared the Japanese would land. So authorities removed boats (the lifeline of the region) and the police destroyed and seized rice stocks.

Mukherjee tracks down some of the survivors of the famine and paints a chilling tale of the effects of hunger and deprivation. Parents dumped their starving children into rivers and wells. Many took their lives by throwing themselves in front of trains. Starving people begged for the starchy water in which rice had been boiled. Children ate leaves and vines, yam stems and grass. People were too weak even to cremate their loved ones. "No one had the strength to perform rites," a survivor tells Mukherjee. Dogs and jackals feasted on piles of dead bodies in Bengal's villages. The ones who got away were men who migrated to Calcutta for jobs and women who turned to prostitution to feed their families. "Mothers had turned into murderers, village belles into whores, fathers into traffickers of daughters," writes Mukherjee.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a piece "In Dalit student suicides, the death of merit" by
Vidya Subrahmaniam, published in The Hindu:

New Delhi: He killed himself in his college library, unable to bear the insults and taunts. The suicide note recovered from his coat pocket charged his Head of the Department (HOD) with deliberately failing him and threatening to fail him over and over. Seven months later, a three-member group of senior professors re-evaluated his answer sheet and found that he had in fact passed the test.
Medical student Jaspreet Singh, a Dalit by birth, wanted nothing more than to become a doctor.
Tragically, he fulfilled his ambition posthumously. A year later, his young sister, a student of Bachelor of Computer Application, also committed suicide, heartbroken at the injustice done to her brother.
Shocking details about the January 2008 suicide of the Chandigarh-based student have emerged following recent investigations by Insight Foundation, a Dalit-Adivasi student group that has compiled a list of 18 suicides by Dalit students studying in reputed institutions of higher education across India in the past four years.
The Foundation has also uploaded two documentaries onto YouTube, titled “The death of merit” — one on Jaspreet and the other on Bal Mukund, a Dalit student from Uttar Pradesh, who studied at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences and committed suicide in March 2010.
Jaspreet was in the final year at the Government Medical College in Chandigarh. He was an excellent student throughout, and had never failed in any subject until he reached the fifth and final year.
This is when his ordeal began. His HOD told him that he might have entered medical college using his Scheduled Caste certificate but he would not go out with a degree.
The professor failed him in Community Medicine, a crucial subject, and told him, according to the suicide note, that he will not let him pass.
Jaspreet had set his heart on a MD degree from the prestigious Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh. The threat cut short that dream.
Jaspreet's father, Charan Singh, told The Hindu: “I have no reason to live anymore. What more evidence do they want?”
Indeed, the evidence is clinching in this case. Jaspreet's suicide note; a certificate affirming Jaspreet's handwriting from the Directorate of Forensic Science, Ministry of Home Affairs, Shimla; testimonies from Jaspreet's friends; and finally, the re-evaluation of the answer sheet by a three member body of doctors from PGI, Chandigarh. All three doctors, Rajesh Kumar, Amarjeet Singh and Arun Kumar Aggrawal, specialised in Community Medicine – the subject in which Jaspreet was failed. Yet till date, no action has been taken against the guilty HOD or the college.
In Bal Mukund's case, the AIIMS authorities seized on the fact that there was no suicide note. Their version was that Bal Mukund, who had attempted suicide once earlier, killed himself in depression.
But Bal Mukund's parents plaintively ask: “Who and what drove him to depression? He had repeatedly told us that he was harassed because of his caste. He was about to change his name. He also wanted to settle abroad to escape the humiliation of being born a Dalit.”