Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hunger in South Asia Hits Forty Year High

A United Nations' report says hunger in South Asia has reached its highest level in 40 years because of food and fuel price increase and the global economic downturn.

The report by the UN children's fund, UNICEF, says that 100 million more people in the region are going hungry compared with two years ago.

While it names Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan among the worst affected by the current crisis, the report singles out India for the harshest criticism for its terrible record on chronic hunger and malnutrition. India, along with Yemen, and Timor-Leste, has the highest prevalence of underweight children (a measure of malnutrition) of more than 40 percent.

India has failed to use a period of high economic growth to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty, falling far short of China’s record in protecting its population from the ravages of chronic hunger, United Nations officials said on Tuesday. Last year, British Development Minister Alexander contrasted the rapid growth in China with India's economic success - highlighting government figures that showed the number of poor people had dropped in the one-party communist state by 70% since 1990 but had risen in the world's biggest democracy by 5%.

The World Hunger Index of 88 countries published by IFPRI last year ranked India at 66 while Pakistan was slightly better at 61 and Bangladesh slightly worse at 70.

In the context of unprecedented economic growth (9-10 percent annually) and national food security, over 60 percent of Indian children are wasted, stunted, underweight or a combination of the above. As a result, India ranks number 62 along with Bangladesh at 67 in the PHI (Poverty Hunger Index)ranking out of a total of 81 countries. Both nations are included among the low performing countries in progress towards MDG1 (Millennium Development Goals) with countries such as Nepal (number 58), Ethiopia (number 60), or Zimbabwe (number 74).

Pakistan ranks well ahead of India at 45 and it is included in the medium performing countries. PHI is a new composite indicator – the Poverty and Hunger Index (PHI) – developed to measure countries’ performance towards achieving MDG1 on halving poverty and hunger by 2015. The PHI combines all five official MDG1 indicators, including a) the proportion of population living on less than US$ 1/day, b) poverty gap ratio, c) share of the poorest quintile in national income or consumption, d) prevalence of underweight in children under five years of age, and d) the proportion of population undernourished.

The stinging criticism of India’s performance comes only two weeks after the Congress party-led alliance was overwhelmingly voted back into office. Its leaders had campaigned strongly on their achievement of raising India’s economic growth to 9 per cent and boosting rural welfare. With the exception of Kerala, the situation in India is far worse than the Human Development Index suggests. According to economist Amartya Sen, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on hunger, India has fared worse than any other country in the world at preventing recurring hunger.

An unfavorable comparison with Beijing’s development record will rile New Delhi. Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, has argued that the country’s economic development is more durable than that of China because it is forged in a democracy rather than by a one-party state.

Aniruddha Bonnerjee, an economic and social policy consultant for Unicef, said there had been “stagnation” in the fight against malnutrition and that stubbornly high food prices posed a growing threat to poor families. He warned that with India’s growth rates now almost half what they were two years ago, New Delhi would find it more difficult to boost spending on health, education and food to nurture its human capital.

“If there was no progress against malnutrition and hunger when growth was higher, how are you going to do it now?” he asked.

Mr Bonnerjee said some Asian countries had managed to halve poverty over five years during times of high economic growth; India was falling far short of that achievement. Mr Singh’s championing of “inclusive growth” was electioneering and had left large swathes of the population untouched, he said.

Unicef was also critical of high military budgets in the region at the cost of social protection. India is modernising its armed forces and projecting its power more widely than in the past.

“A number of countries in south Asia decide to invest in the military and not to increase investment in their people.” said Daniel Toole, Unicef’s regional director “Budgetary allocations can be more than 10 per cent in the military, while education is only 2 per cent.”

I see hunger and poverty and lack of opportunity as the root cause of most of the ethnic, religious and other forms of violence. The situation is further complicated when nations with the largest number of poor and hungry choose to spend more on military than on fighting poverty, hunger and disease.

In fact, letting millions die of hunger each year, is what Amatya Sen calls "quiet violence", a form of ongoing brutality that claims far more lives than all of the other causes of violence combined.

Neither Pakistan nor India can or should continue their misguided arms race, with India using China as its excuse, and Pakistan citing India's current arms buildup, the largest in its history. In Poverty-Hunger Index(PHI), designed to measure progress toward UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), China, ranked 31, is closest to achieving these goals, followed by laggards such as Pakistan at 45, India at 62, and Bangladesh at 67. And clearly, India, lagging behind both China and Pakistan in terms of basic social indicators of hunger and poverty, is fueling this crazy South Asian arms race. India continues to show a total lack of leadership on this front.

The South Asian rivals need to recognize, in words and in deeds, that their people are their biggest resource, who must be developed and made much more productive to make the nations more competitive and powerful economically, politically and militarily.

Here's video clip about the death of an Indian child from hunger:


Poverty and Hunger Index (PHI) Ranking of Nations

Mother and Child Nutrition

UNICEF Attacks India's Record on Poverty

2008 Global Hunger Index


Anonymous said...

It is true that india growth has not reached the villages and poor. This is because of the corruption in all layer of government service.

government had announced 60000 crores waiver of loan for the benefit of farmers. Nobody knows where the money went.

In fact a latest controversial report state that 1.2 trillion usd worth of indian black money is lying outside the country.

Till such time these loop holes are plugged, i dont see these percentage improving for india. It is surprise that pakistan is ahead of india with all its political and economical issues.

Vikram said...

Actually, the article points out that poverty and malnutrition in India may not share the obvious relationship they do elsewhere in the world,

"Gwatkin et al. (2003) showed that in India malnutrition severely affected the third, fourth and fifth quintiles in the early 1990s (with an incidence of 61%, 60.6%, and 57%, respectively)"

So the expectation of improving nutrition in India by raising incomes is a bit misplaced.

In India, economic growth and liberalization has been accompanied by a withdrawal of the state from provision of basic services like health and education. On the other hand, it has been accompanied by an increasingly aggressive consumerism and media/advertising blitz.

This really squeezes households in the bottom and lower middle sections of the economic system. On the one hand they have to pay more for food and education, on the other hand they are under relentless pressure to spend on a cell phone or a TV, radio etc. Consequently there are less resources remaining for the welfare of the marginal sections of the household, typically children (esp. female) and women.

Thus it is not surprising that simple economic growth has not led to improvements in health and nutrition. In fact, in the future we may see a decline of even the current numbers.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a recent Times of India report headlined India Tops World Hunger Chart":

NEW DELHI: India is failing its rural poor with 230 million people being undernourished — the highest for any country in the world. Malnutrition
accounts for nearly 50% of child deaths in India as every third adult (aged 15-49 years) is reported to be thin (BMI less than 18.5).

According to the latest report on the state of food insecurity in rural India, more than 1.5 million children are at risk of becoming malnourished because of rising global food prices.

The report said that while general inflation declined from a 13-year high exceeding 12% in July 2008 to less than 5% by the end of January 2009, the inflation for food articles doubled from 5% to over 11% during the same period.

Foodgrain harvest during 2008-09 is estimated to be a record 228 million tonnes. However, the requirement for the national population would exceed 250 million tonnes by 2015.

India ranks 94th in the Global Hunger Index of 119 countries, the report said.

Brought out by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the report points to some staggering figures. More than 27% of the world's undernourished population lives in India while 43% of children (under 5 years) in the country are underweight. The figure is among the highest in the world and is much higher than the global average of 25% and also higher than sub-Saharan Africa's figure of 28%.

More than 70% of children (under-5) suffer from anaemia and 80% of them don't get vitamin supplements. According to the report, the proportion of anaemic children has actually increased by 6% in the past six years with 11 out of 19 states having more than 80% of its children suffering from anaemia.

Percentage of women with chronic energy deficiency is stagnant at 40% over six years with the proportion in fact increasing in Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana during the same period.

The report said that the ambitious Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) was failing. "Apart from failing to serve the intended goal of reduction of food subsidies, the TPDS also led to greater food insecurity for large sections of the poor and the near-poor. These targeting errors arise due to imperfect information, inexact measurement of household characteristics, corruption and inefficiency," the report said.

It added, "Another problem of the TPDS was the issue of quantity of grain that a household would be entitled to. The TPDS initially restricted the allotments to BPL households to 10 kg per month. For a family of five, this amounts to 2 kg per capita. Using the ICMR recommended norm of 330 grams per day, the requirement per person per month would be 11 kg and that for a family of five would be 55 kg."

The Union Budget of 2001 increased the allotment to 20 kg per month and raised it further to 35 kg in April 2002.

The report also questioned the government's definitions of hunger and poverty. "The fact that calorie deprivation is increasing during a period when the proportion of rural population below the poverty line is claimed to be declining rapidly, highlights the increasing disconnect between official poverty estimates and calorie deprivation," it said.

"Nutrition security involving physical, economic and social access to balanced diet, clean drinking water, sanitation and primary healthcare for every child, woman and man is fundamental to providing all our citizens an opportunity for a healthy and productive life," said Prof M S Swaminathan.

Almost 80% of rural households do not have access to toilets within their premises. The figure exceeds 90% in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and MP.

The proportion of stunted children (under-5) at 48% is again among the highest in the world. Every second child in the country is stunted, according to the health ministry's figures.

Around 30% of babies in India are born underweight.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report in Pakistan's "the News" about Pakistan lagging in achieving MDG goals:

The report, titled “MDGs report 2010”, launched by Planning Commission reveals that the country was lagging behind or moving slow on 25 most crucial targets out of total 33 for gauging performance on social sectors such as eradication of poverty, literacy, mortality rates and safe drinking water etc for achieving MDGs targets till 2015 envisaged under United Nations umbrella. Pakistan is ahead on six indicators while it is on track on two. The country is off the track on infant mortality-rate indicator. Pakistan is going to present the MDG report 2010 before the special session of UN next week.

“Pakistan faces numerous challenges and is unlikely to achieve MDGs targets,” says the report launched here at the Planning Commission’s Auditorium on Friday afternoon in the presence of deputy chairman Planning Commission Dr Nadeem Ul Haq, United Nations resident coordinator Onder Yucer and UNDP’s country head in Pakistan.

The report was prepared and launched after a gap of four years by Centre for Poverty Reduction and Social Policy Development (CPRSPD), a joint venture of the Planning Commission and the UNDP but it did not incorporate the latest available poverty figures of 17.2 per cent on the basis of survey done in 2007-08 that was also validated by the World Bank. However, the report has used the poverty figure of 22.3 per cent on the basis of survey done in 2005-06.

Speaking on the occasion, the resident coordinator of UN said that Pakistan lost achievements of last one decade in the wake of recent flood.

But Dr Nadeem Ul Haq was of the view that the failure of public service delivery and unsustainable growth were the main reasons for missing the MDGs targets. He said there was need to bring desired structural changes in the social service delivery as the old paradigm has failed to deliver in the last six decades.

The MDGs report 2010 says that militancy, political instability in 2007-08 and transition from a military-led regime to a democratically elected government caused severe disruptions in economic and social development.

“Furthermore, the most recent catastrophic flood has affected approximately more than 12 million people, ravaged different rural and urban areas and caused immense damage to the infrastructure and agriculture of the country. This will adversely impact the overall economy and achievement of many of MDGs over the next few years.”

On MDGs target to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, Pakistan is lagging behind on proportion of population living below the poverty line and the situation had worsened since 2006.

Pakistan also lags behind on prevalence of underweight children under 5 years of age and proportion of population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption.

On net primary enrolment ratio, Pakistan was lagging behind at 57 per cent by 2008-09 against the MDGs envisaged target of 100 per cent by 2015. The country is far behind in terms of literacy rate on completion of grade 1 to 5.

For promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, Pakistan’s progress on Gender Parity Index (GPI) for primary and secondary education was slow while progress on youth literacy GPI has also fallen.

Pakistan is ahead on proportion of seats held by women in Parliament.

On MDGs targets of reducing child mortality, Pakistan lags behind in under five-year age group mortality rate, off-track on infant mortality rate, far behind on fully immunized children aged between 12 to 23 months and other indicators.

On improving maternal health target, the country is lagging behind in terms of maternal mortality rate, proportion of birth attended by skilled birth attendants, contraceptive prevalence rate and total fertility rate related indicators.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report indicating India has failed to make significant progress in MDGs:

PTI | 09:09 PM,Sep 16,2010
D Ravi Kanth Geneva, Sept 16 (PTI) India has performed poorly in meeting the Millennium Development Goals despite sustained growth, with high levels of maternal and child mortality rates amidst very low public spending on health, analysts have said ahead of next week's UN summit on MDGs in New York.India is not going to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- sharp reduction in extreme poverty and hunger, improvement in maternal health, reducing child mortality, and HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases by 2015.The MDGs are both global and local, tailored by each country to suit specific development needs and they were adopted by world leaders in the year 2000.The deadline for achieving MDGs is 2015 and leaders when they congregate in New York will discuss the overall progress and what steps to take during the next five years.A new report- 'Trends in Maternal Mortality:1990-2008' prepared by the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, UNFPA, and The World Bank suggests that India continues to have high maternal mortality as well as child mortality.The report says around 1,000 women die every day due to complications during pregnancy and child birth in the world. The risk of a woman in a developing country dying from a pregnancy-related cause during her lifetime is about 36 times higher as compared to a woman living in a developed countries.Though the maternal mortality (MMR) rate has dropped by 34 per cent from an estimated 5,46,000 in 1990 to 3,58,000 in 2008, it continues to be a major problem in India with the highest maternal deaths occurring due to severe bleeding after childbirth, infections, hypertensive disorders and unsafe abortion."To achieve our global goal of improving maternal health and to save women's lives we need to do more to reach those who are most at risk," says Anthony Lake, UNICEF's executive director."India has low investment around 3 per cent in health" as compared to many African countries, which had decided to scale up investments for health to about 15 per cent of GDP, says Michel Kazatchkine, the Global Fund's executive director.Kazatchkine, who visited India recently, told reporters that India has to increase its outlay for the health sector adding that the government is responsive to the needs in health and other social sectors.The Global Funds has provided about USD 1.1 billion to address HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.Though India makes an annual contribution of USD 10 million to The Global Fund, it managed to be one of its highest recipients.The Global Fund chief said he made a special appeal to finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to increase India's contribution in line with its economic growth and change. PTI DRK