Friday, October 16, 2009
Persistent Hunger on World Food Day in South Asia
Marking World Food Day today, October 16, 2009, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) called on the world to remember the more than one billion urgently hungry people, nearly half of them in India, with inadequate access to food.
“World Food Day is actually "No Food Day" for almost one out of every six people around the world this year,” WFP executive director Josette Sheeran said in Rome. “Our challenge is to turn ‘No Food Day’ back into ‘World Food Day’ for the hundreds of millions without food on their table tonight.”
Babu Matthew, country director for ActionAid India, said: "The dark side of India's economic growth has been that the excluded social groups have been further marginalized, compounding their hunger, malnutrition and even leading to starvation deaths."
Among the developing countries ranked by Action Aid for Hunger, Brazil wins the top spot with B grade (no country gets an A on a scale from A to E), with the aid agency praising President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's support for land reform and community kitchens for the poor.
ActionAid said Brazil's success shows "what can be achieved when the state has both resources and political will to tackle hunger".
China (B grade) is also gets high marks for cutting the number of hungry by 58 million in 10 years through strong state support for smallholder farmers.
But the report is critical of resurgent India, which receives the lowest possible E (essentially an F) grade for hunger. It says 30 million Indians have been added to the ranks of the hungry since the mid-1990s and 46% of children are underweight. Pakistan, with grade D, is also ranked low, with 31% of its children underweight. Bangladesh, receiving C grade, is praised for reducing the number of chronically food-insecure people from 40 million to 27 million in the past 10 years and for improving childhood nutrition in the past two decades. But the report says Bangladesh has a long way to go to reduce overall malnutrition and build a sustainable agricultural system.
A recent British government report has described India as nutritional weakling. There is widespread hunger and malnutrition in all parts of India. 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. The first India State Hunger Index (Ishi) report in 2008 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.
According to Economic Survey 2008-09, presented by Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, Pakistan's economy grew by a mere 2.0 percent, barely keeping pace with population growth. The growth fell significantly short of the 4.5 percent target for the year, which was already very modest compared with an average of 7% economic growth witnessed from 2001-2008. As a result of the nation's economic troubles, there have been massive job losses and significant anecdotal evidence of increase in poverty and hunger. The lines for free food paid for by charities have been growing, with a sense of desperation not seen before, brought in sharp focus by the shameful deaths of several destitute women in Karachi scrambling to grab free wheat bags.
The ActionAid hunger score card is a sobering reminder for both India and Pakistan of how the nuclear armed neighbors lag most of the nations of the world in meeting the basic nutritional requirements of their people. Particularly disturbing are the high rates of underweight children at 44% in India and 31% in Pakistan. This egregious neglect of children by South Asians amounts to condemning their future generations to permanent brain damage.
India Tops World Hunger Chart
Food, Clothing and Shelter in India and Pakistan
Mixed Messages in Hunger Report
ActionAid's World Hunger Score Card
World Food Program in India
World Food Program Pakistan