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Understanding India’s hunger problem


Globally we’ve made great strides in tackling the issue of hunger in the past 25 years. In 1990 the Global Hunger Index (GHI) score for developing countries was 20.6, but in 2014 it stands at 12.5 – a drop of 39 per cent. But despite this, there are still approximately 805 million people around the world who suffer from long term malnourishment.

In India too, the good news remains laced with the bad. India’s ranking on the Global Hunger Index has improved by eight places, positioned at 55th out of 76 countries in 2014. This drop has changed the classification of India’s hunger situation from ‘alarming’ to ‘serious’ according to the GHI. This improved ranking also shows how hard India has been working to solve its hunger problem. The results can be seen by the drop in the score of its underweight children by almost 13 points from 43.5 per cent in 2005-2006, to 30.7 per cent in 2013-14, as per a provisional 2014 study done by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and UNICEF.

India has managed to achieve this growth through initiatives like improving agricultural productivity, making provisions to reduce vulnerabilities of small and marginal farmers, and focusing on improving the cost efficiency, targeting and nutritional value of food-based social schemes like the Targeted Public Distribution System, Integrated Child Development Service and the Mid-Day Meal Scheme.

However, according to UNICEF, India is still home to approximately 243 million adolescents (aged 10-19 years), of which 56 per cent of girls and 30 per cent of boys suffer from anaemia – raising the crucial and often overlooked issue of hidden hunger (micro-nutrient deficiency). Also, despite the fact that India’s per capita income has increased by more than three times in the past 20 years, social inequality still remains very high. This gap between the rich and the poor in Indian society can be seen by the fact that the bottom 10 per cent of the population account for a little over 3 per cent of the total consumption expenditure, while the top 10 per cent accounts for 31 per cent.

Food wastage is another crucial aspect while analysing India’s hunger problem. An article in The Hindu reported last year that as much as 1.94 lakh metric tonnes of food grain worth crores of rupees were wasted in India between 2005 and 2013. In India food wastage occurs at several levels. Huge amounts of food are lost because of poor infrastructure at the production and processing stages. Lack of proper storage facilities like warehouses for grains, cold storage units for perishable items and unreliable stowage during transport cause huge losses to both society and the economy. At the consumption level too food waste is high, especially in the middle and upper classes of society. Perfectly edible food is discarded into dustbins across millions of households on a daily basis, while cultural norms of lavish celebrations for festivals and weddings in India have contributed to excess food wastage as well.

Hunger is a deep-rooted issue that India struggles with even today, but the tide is slowly turning. As the economy grows and infrastructure improves, literacy rates go up and access to health care expands India moves towards a zero hunger society. To achieve this goal as quickly as possible we urge each of you to try and fulfil the theme of this year’s World Hunger Day (28th May), and partner with us to ‘Do something great’! Together we can help end malnutrition and hunger in India.

How would you like to help solve India’s hunger problem? Leave us your comments below.

The author arjun

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