India the capital of world hunger, reports new study


INDIA IS emerging as the global centre of hunger and malnutrition, failing to eradicate hunger for large sections of its population of more than 1.2 billion, even as its leaders flaunt the country’s impressive economic growth.

Navdanya Trust, a leading Indian environmentalist campaign group, has reported that more than 200 million people – or one-in-four Indians – remain hungry. Environmentalist Vandana Shiva, who heads the trust, said there were more hungry people in India than in sub-Saharan Africa, with some 57 million children underweight because of malnutrition.

The government has not responded to the report released last week. It has repeatedly claimed, though, that much progress has been made in recent years to improve food security. India adds about 18 million people annually to its population, and is projected to overtake China by 2040.

The trust’s report, based largely on data collated from government surveys, shows India’s annual per capita food consumption has decreased from 186kg per person in 1991 to 152kg in 2001, despite state subsidies.

Ms Shiva said that food provided in government-run ration shops across India at subsidised rates failed to provide a balanced diet as it was too rich in starch, causing diseases such as diabetes.

She was also critical of genetically modified crops and chemical fertilisers, arguing that they only increased food production costs, forcing farmers into debt and in many cases causing them to commit suicide. Some 200,000 Indian farmers had ended their lives since 1997, mostly because of debt.

“Studies worldwide show that the hungriest of people are its producers – the farmers,” she said.

The trust’s report follows a UN study in June which declared that hunger in South Asia had reached its highest levels in 40 years because of a rise in food and fuel prices and the global economic downturn. Earlier, the International Food Policy Research Institute in its Global Hunger Index 2007 report placed India 94th out of 118 countries, lagging behind neighbouring China and Pakistan, ranked at 47th and 88th positions respectively.

According to the report, 40 per cent of the world’s underweight children below the age of five are in India, while more than half of all babies with low birth weight are born in South Asia.

The analysis also showed that economic growth in India’s agricultural sector lagged behind other sectors, causing poverty and hunger in rural communities.

In addition, lower castes and certain ethnic minorities are discriminated against, it said, pushing them further into poverty and starvation. Gender discrimination also affected the situation.

Officials privately conceded that the benefits of India’s economic advancement are confined to just a few, with social, economic and environmental justice a mirage for the vast majority of Indians.