CHENNAI: One in every four hungry persons in the world is an Indian. This sobering piece of statistics comes from the annual UN hunger report. “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015” (SOFI) says India is home to the highest number of undernourished people on Earth. The country tops the list with an estimated 194.6 million people surpassing China’s 138.8 million.
Of the 129 countries that were monitored, 72 have achieved the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the prevalence of undernourishment by 2015, while 29 including many in Latin America, Central and South East Asia, and the Caribbean Islands managed to meet the ambitious target to halve the absolute number at the World Food Summit in 1996. While the smaller neighbour, Nepal has achieved both the MDG and the WFS targets, India failed miserably on both.
The report states that Sub-Saharan African region has the highest prevalence of undernourishment in the world at 23.2 per cent, but diverse trends were observed in different parts of Asia. Countries in Eastern and Southeast Asia have achieved a steady and rapid reduction in both malnourishment indicators, buoyed by investment in water and sanitation infrastructure as well as favourable economic prospects. South Asia, however, witnessed a modest decline, to 15.7 per cent from 23.9 per cent. While progress was made in reducing underweight among young children when compared to 1990-92, it has increased from the figures noted in 2010-12. The number of undernourished in India was 210.1 million in 1990-92, 189.9 million in 2010-12 and 194.6 million in 2014-16.
Reports from the Ministry of Women and Child Development maintain that the estimates of undernourished children has declined from 45.1 per cent in 2005-06 to 30.7 per cent last year, but the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has termed the situation as ‘serious’. “To eliminate hunger, we should pay concurrent attention to overcoming under-nutrition caused by inadequate purchasing power, protein hunger due to insufficient intake of pulses and other protein rich foods, and hidden hunger caused by micronutrient deficiencies,” said noted scientist MS Swaminathan. “In addition, we should pay attention to clean drinking water and sanitation, in order to ensure absorption of food in the body,” he pointed out.
Apart from the array of already prevelant hunger and poverty eradication programmes, Swaminathan suggests the need to establish nutrition gardens of bio-fortified crops. “This will supply the much-needed micro nutrients like iron, iodine, zinc, vitamin A, etc. At the same time, we must also launch programmes for creating a cadre of community hunger fighters in every panchayat, well versed with the nutritional problems of the area and of methods of solving them. Above all, every farm should become a ‘nutri-farm’ combining the dimension of nutritional security with food security.”
Even as the population of the country grew by millions since 1990, the number of people trapped in poverty and hunger too has increased. “We should remind ourselves that hunger can be eliminated sooner than expected if the necessary political will, professional skill and people’s participation can be brought together,” adds Swaminathan.