The pangs of Hunger

  11-Nov-2020 12:05:18

Hunger UN poverty food

The everyday problems that most of us face look something like this: meeting the dreaded deadlines, choosing what to wear for the day, low Internet speed, frizzy hair and I could go on. But no matter how much I extend this list, the fear of going to sleep on an empty stomach is not going to figure in here. In fact, it is pretty absurd to imagine yourself in such a situation. After all, food seems to be such a given in our life, right? You open social media and you will see posts of drool-worthy delicacies . You go out and there will be restaurants and cafés with all those catchy names. You don’t feel like cooking so you just press some buttons and have the food delivered to your doorstep.

So with food apparently being so omnipresent, can there be people who are struggling to put enough calories inside them? Are there children who have stunted growth and develop a myriad of illnesses because they didn’t get sufficient nutrients in a country that doesn’t exactly face a dearth of food production? Can there be people who are dying because of starvation? The fact is that on one hand there are people who are privileged enough to choose what they want for dinner. And then there are the ones who can’t even tell if they will have dinner on their table or not.

This situation has been under the spotlight recently. And there is every reason for it to be. After all, out of 107 countries, India could only manage to get an abysmal rank of 94 on the Global Hunger Index. With a score of 27.2, our country has been put into the ‘Serious’ category. Also, it must be mentioned that Bangladesh and Pakistan, the countries which we consider to be much behind us, have fetched a better rank of 75 and 88 respectively. There are 4 indicators that GHI takes into consideration: Undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting, and child mortality. Needless to say, our performance isn’t very remarkable in any of these.

189.2 million people in India ( around 14 percent of the population ) are undernourished. Around 38 percent of children below 5 years in India are stunted and 20 percent are wasted. Of all the deaths of children under 5 years of age, 68 percent are the result of malnutrition.

These are just cold hard numbers. But each number is a warm-blooded human who has to battle survival every day due to something as basic as food. It’s a shame that a trillion-dollar economy like ours can’t secure that.

So what is it that we are doing wrong? In short, almost everything.

We can rule out a shortage of food grain production. After all, it was estimated to be 285.21 million tonnes in the year 2019-20 which should suffice for our population. But the storage and distribution system is less than satisfactory. Around 14 million tonnes are wasted in a year due to insect feeding, lack of cold storage facilities, moisture, pathogenic growth, and so on. According to the United Nations, around 40 percent of the food in India ends up being wasted. And that’s no wonder.

In restaurants, people ordering more they can eat is pretty much a common sight. Though some places do distribute the surplus, most of them find bins to be a better option. Around 10 million weddings held in a year, can waste 40 percent of the food prepared. It’s nothing short of cruel that we have food rotting away in a country with such hunger problems as ours.

India’s tale of starvation also lines up perfectly with its poverty and an ever-increasing income gap. Though poverty in India isn’t that bad as it used to be(6.7%), millions are still subjected to it. With hardly any money in their pocket, food isn’t exactly an affordable item for many people. Not to mention that the pandemic is likely to push another 44 million people into poverty, which will only exacerbate the problem. Though we do have a Public Distribution system in place, going by the grim figures, it leaves a lot to be desired. It is deep-rooted in corruption and a lot of essentials which are supposed to be sold off at subsidized rates through ration shops, find their way into open markets and black markets.

The fact that only 10 percent of the people hold 77 percent of the total wealth in India goes to show how little is being done to bridge the gap between the haves and have nots. With wealth increasingly changing hands from the poor to the rich, we can expect an increase in the number of underfed bellies.

A population of 1.3 billion also makes it difficult to beat down hunger. And the sad fact is that people from the lower strata of society, who are already struggling to scrape together some food, prefer to have more children. And all this under the delusion that more offspring translate into more working hands and thus higher income. What they fail to realize is that even if the income increases, it will have to be distributed among more heads, leaving them with pretty much the same standard of living and maybe even worse off than before. Since the children will not be educated and are not likely to end up as doctors or lawyers, sparsely paying jobs is what they will end up with. So despite the overall increase in income, income per head might decrease. The result can be that the increase in the rate of income would be less than the rate of increase in the cost of living of more people.

And as if there weren’t enough problems already, climate change is another emerging challenge. Many crops might not be able to thrive in conditions of high temperatures. Global warming leads to extremities such as droughts and floods, which will seriously affect our agricultural yields. Weeds, fungi, and pests will have a gala time, considering that warmer climate and high CO2 levels are optimal for their growth. And this isn’t a problem that’s going away anytime soon. If anything, going by the weak efforts by the Indian and Global community to fight it off, it seems that it’s here to stay and wreak havoc.

One can say that hunger is not a stand-alone problem. It’s a child of abject poverty and disparity, of increasing numbers and limited resources, of inefficiency and corruption. Social welfare programs do help but that's just trimming the weed and not pulling it out by the roots.

A more comprehensive strategy is needed to overhaul the way our country functions. The fruits of development should not only belong to a privileged few. An all-inclusive growth will help us get rid of the various maladies which ail our society and provide better employment opportunities. The distribution networks should be strengthened and made more flexible. This will help in redirecting the excess food to the people in need, which is a better option than letting it rot and waste. Although we have plenty of policies working on poverty and overpopulation, there is a need to work on them with more rigor. Corruption, which seems to be the standard policy of many government departments, should be checked by increasing transparency and accountability. Climate change, which still evokes indifference among people as if it were a myth, should not be taken lightly for the sake of food security. Actions are what will pave the way for self-sustenance and cut off the blood supply to hunger.

There is no dearth of food security programs from which we can take inspiration. USA's Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been a huge success. Families with around 20 million children ( 1 in 4 children) have been benefited under this. Integrated Food Security Strategy, which came into force in 2002 in South Africa, led to the integration of various food security programs. This brought about an increase in efficiency through which the country effectively decreased hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition. Under Brazil's Food Acquisition Program, family farming has been given impetus along with crop diversification. This has helped to tighten food security.

A modified version of these policies, which is suited to Indian needs, can be adopted. Their proper implementation and follow up may work wonders for us.

At last, it should be said that our idea of a powerful country should not only be defined by a GDP worth trillions but a country without stomachs gnawing with pangs of hunger.

By : Riya Gupta

(The views expressed are the author's own)