Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hunger and anger


Since 1979, 16 October is being observed as World Food Day in more than 150 countries. On this day the Food and Agriculture Organisation was founded by the United Nations in 1945. The purpose is to raise general awareness about hunger and poverty.
In the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000, 189 countries promised, inter alia, eradication of extreme hunger, halving ~ within 2015, with 1990 as the benchmark year ~ the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day and also halving malnutrition.
The Millennium Development Goals Report 2009, however, delineates that the number of people leaving in extreme poverty, though decreased from 1.8 billion in 1990 to 1.4 billion in 2005, is likely to have gone up by around 75 million during the subsequent years.
The World Bank had long held an income of $1 per day per head adjusted for each country’s purchasing power parity, as a yardstick for international poverty line. This figure has been revised, since 2008, to $1.25.
In India, the Planning Commission defined poverty line as one’s daily food consumption of 2,400 kilo calories in the rural and 2,100 kilo calories in urban areas. Those consuming less constitute the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category. But from the Ninth Plan period onwards, parameters have been changed. The Union ministry of rural development constituted an experts committee under the chairmanship of NC Saxena “to recommend simple and suitable methodology to identify the rural poor.” The committee submitted its report for the BPL Census for the 11th Plan period in August 2009.
The experts group refuses to buy the Planning Commission’s proposition that the percentage of BPL population has decreased from 56 in 1973-74 to 28 in 2004-05. There is no indication of any decline in the number of people consuming less calories than the BPL norm. Fraction of people living below the 2,100/2,400 calorie criterion, according to the committee, is on the rise instead.
In 1990, 63.2 per cent of the Indian population belonged to this group, which ~ according to the Millennium Development Goals ~ needs to be reduced to 31.5 per cent by 2015. But the figure has been going up considerably each year and stood out above 75 per cent during 2004- 2005.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has developed the Global Hunger Index (GHI) as a measure of hunger and malnutrition of a country. It is a combination of three equally weighted indicators ~ undernourished people as a percentage of total population, percentage of underweight children under the age of five years and the mortality rate of under-five children.
The GHI is calculated from these data on a 100-point scale, 0 being the best score representing no hunger and 100, the worst. GHI values up to 4.9 indicate low hunger, 5 to 9.9 moderate hunger and 10 to 19.9 a serious condition. A score between 20 and 29.9 is alarming and anything above 30 is exceedingly alarming.
The table below is an estimate of the India State Hunger Index (ISHI) computed identically for most of the states by a team of Indian scholars in 2008. Numerically, ISHI is the same as the GHI.
None of the states of India belongs even to the low or moderate hunger index group. The problem everywhere is either serious or alarming. For Madhya Pradesh, it is exceedingly alarming.
In GHI score, India occupies the 66th position among 88 developing countries. Of all the countries invited this year to attend the G-8 conference as emerging economy, India lags behind all others by a ludicrously big margin on this score.
True, developing countries are being deprived through plundering, globalisation, perverse aid and trade activities and so on. Humanitarian aid, pro-people development, guaranteed food supply, conservation of environment ~ all this can help alleviate extreme global poverty to a significant extent. Rich people all over the world can benefit themselves and the hungry world by toning down hedonism and food-wastage.
India’s position could have been much better in the global hunger map, had funds for social welfare schemes meant for the under-privileged not been mostly usurped or under-utilised by the politician-bureaucrat nexus. Corruption is rampant. Poor farmers and tribals are being displaced in the name of development. India is the second highest arms importer of the world. Huge sum is being spent to stifle ruthlessly the agitation of the angry marginalised. Who will remind our rulers the much-quoted assertion of John Steinback ~ The line between hunger and anger is a thin line?
Another experts group constituted in 2006 by the Planning Commission, of course, observed in its report “Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas” on a similar line. But who cares?

The writer is a retired teacher of Applied Physics, Calcutta University

Source: The Statesman 16 October 2009

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