CED Documentation is for your personal reference and
The Deccan Herald, Bangalore, 14 Nov 2008
Hunger and inequality
The prognosis by Nobel Laureate
Amartya Sen that India might actually become two countries in economic
terms, one with all the pomp and éclat of the Silicon Valley and
the other like the Sub-Saharan Africa, must not count as a crude joke.
According to the 2008 Global Hunger Index compiled by the International
Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), India ranks 66th out of 88
nations. Despite years of robust economic growth, India scored worse
than nearly 25 Sub-Saharan African countries and all of South Asia,
except Bangladesh. On the other two components of the Global Hunger
Index — child underweight and child mortality — India ranks below
Madhya Pradesh ranks between Ethiopia and Chad. Punjab, the
best-performing state, ranks below Gabon, Honduras, and Vietnam.
India’s rates of child malnutrition are higher than most countries in
Now if you consider that these rankings were made using pre-2006 data
and do not reflect the ongoing ‘crisis’ of rising food prices in the
context, consider how the departing US President George W Bush blamed
Indians, for eating more and precipitating a world food crisis,
alluding to prosperity in countries like India and China to have
increased demand for better nutrition. There had been a hushed tone of
self-congratulation among a section of Indians believing in the pumped
up glory of a resurgent India.
The findings of the ICFRI, of an India going hungry talks about the 17
major states included in the study, 12 fall in the ‘alarming’ category,
and one state — Madhya Pradesh — falls in the ‘extremely alarming’
category. Ironically, even high growth states, such as Gujarat,
Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, have high levels of hunger, which simply
means that there is a large pool of people who go hungry simply because
they have no purchasing power.
Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen found the solution to poverty and famines,
as lying in increasing the “entitlement” of the poor. But detractors
say that in a system where “entitlement” to food, clothing, housing
etc. depends on having money, there would always be people who (through
illness, incapacity, old age etc.) can’t sell their ability to work,
or, because of its low quality, can’t sell it for a high enough price
to cover their basic needs.
The not-so-simple problem is that the world’s population has continued
to grow while its food production has not. For the fifty years between
1945 and 1995, as the world’s population more than doubled, grain
production kept pace but then it stalled. In the last few years, the
human race has consumed more grain than it grew. The rate of growth of
food grain production in India was zero between 1996-97 and 2004-05,
and the population growth rate was higher in the same period. But the
problem certainly is, while some have wider access to food, more have
Take a closer look at the growing disparity of wealth, which certainly
includes the inequality of food distribution and our faulty public
distribution system Each year over eight million people die worldwide
because they are simply too poor to stay alive. More than 800 million
people go hungry every day. The gross domestic product of the poorest
48 nations is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people.
Thirty-thousand children die every day due to hunger and treatable
illnesses. Six million children die every year before their fifth
birthday, as a result of malnutrition. According to the Human
Development Report (HDR) 2002, the richest one per cent of the world’s
people receives as much income each year as the poorest 57 per cent.
The richest five per cent of the world’s people have incomes 114 times
those of the poorest five per cent. In India, the bottom 40 per cent of
the population remains at poverty levels with consumption of barely
2,400 calories a day. Take the instance of Mumbai, the country’s
super-rich, in which, according to the World Bank, 54 per cent of the
city’s 15 million residents live in slums.
One cannot but wonder which India is more real. An India that cannot
feed a large section of her people, while sending an expensive mission
to the moon? Inequalities and injustices continue to be the most
important cause of the persistence of poverty and deprivation in India.