A household is said to be food insecure when the people in it live in fear of hunger and starvation. Food insecurity affects millions around the world and children, the most vulnerable members of society, are the greatest affected it. Caught in the clutches of poverty and living a hand to mouth existence, many survive on less than one meal a day. While education may be the surest ticket out of the many dehumanizing and abject conditions faced by these children, improving their health and physical well being is the first, most important step to securing their future. Children deprived of the necessary nutrients due to food insecurity fall prey to malnutrition, stunted physical growth and reduced cognitive abilities, all of which eventually hamper their education.
The problem of malnutrition faced by the world’s children is very severe. One out of four – roughly 146 million – in developing countries is underweight and although India is growing economically, this has not been translated to reducing malnutrition among children in the country. In fact, ‘one half of all rural children [in India] are underweight for their age – roughly the same proportion as in 1992.’ On a global scale, approximately 27-28% of all children in developing countries are said to be underweight or stunted, with South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounting for the bulk of the deficit.
While it is important to develop long range programs that improve employability through promoting education, it is also equally necessary to implement schemes that directly provide children with food to improve their health and well being.
To combat this problem of hunger, the World Food Program and the International Fund for Agricultural Development came up with a practical ‘twin track solution’.
• Track one involves the creation of employment opportunities that increase the productivity and incomes of the underprivileged.
• Track two strategies provide direct access to food that will improve the health of the malnourished, increasing their well being and, therefore, their productivity.
‘Food for education’ programs, such as that implemented by Akshaya Patra, address both the hunger and education issues at once.
Reducing hunger is of primary importance in the successful accomplishment of all the MDGs, as it is the root cause of suffering that exacerbates the poverty cycle. A hungry child cannot focus on anything else because of its need for food. In order to truly help a child, therefore, we must first ensure that the child is well nourished and healthy.
But this is not enough to bring about effective change. Children must also be educated in order to break through the cycle of poverty. Food insecure, impoverished families cannot afford food, let alone school fees, and depend on children to work for their meals. In such cases, programs like the mid-day meal scheme have a big impact on the child. By providing lunch at school, we are not only ensuring the health of the child and encouraging education, but also helping to prevent their necessity to work for food.