By Dr. Arun Mitra
That with a Global Hunger Index (GHI) score 30.3, India is at 102 among 117 countries is a matter of serious concern. We are lowest among the South Asian countries. The countries which fall below us are Sierra Leone, Uganda, Djibouti, Congo Rep., Sudan, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Timor-leste, Haiti, Liberia, Zambia, Madagascar, Chad, Yemen Rep. and Central African Republic. Most of these countries are involved in internal or external strife for a long period.
Pakistan, which was at 106th position till last year has improved to be at 94 position even though it is said to be in the midst of worst economic crises ever; so much so that Financial Action Task Force (FATF) plenary meeting, held in Paris from October 13-18, formally announced that Pakistan will remain on its grey list for the next four months till February 2020. With a booming economy, as claimed by the government, our dismal performance in combating malnutrition and hunger requires a serious thought.
Hunger is referred to as the distress associated with a lack of sufficient calories. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines food deprivation, or undernourishment, as the consumption of too few calories to provide the minimum amount of dietary energy that each individual requires to live a healthy and productive life, given that person’s sex, age, stature, and physical activity level. The GHI scores are calculated using four indicators, undernourishment, the share of the population whose caloric intake is insufficient; child wasting, that is the share of children under the age of five who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute under nutrition; child stunting, the share of children under the age of five who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic under nutrition and child mortality, that is the mortality rate of children under the age of five.
In its report, The State of the World’s Children 2019, UNICEF has pointed out that Malnutrition caused 69 per cent of deaths of children below the age of five in India. It further said that every second child in that age group is affected by some form of malnutrition. This includes stunting (35 per cent), wasting (17 per cent) and overweight (per cent). Only 42 per cent of children (in the age group of 6 to 23 months) are fed at adequate frequency and 21 per cent get adequately diverse diet.
It is astonishing that data regarding child mortality due to malnutrition is not maintained by Ministry of Women and Child Development on the plea that Malnutrition is not a direct cause of death among children under five years of age; however, it can increase morbidity and mortality by reducing resistance to infections. Malnourished children are more vulnerable to any infection than normal children.
Lancet had formed a committee to go into nutritional requirements of a person. It has suggested intake of 232 grams of whole grain, 50 grams of Tubers of starchy vegetables like potato, 300 grams of vegetables, 200 grams of fruits, 250 grams dairy food, 250 grams of protein sources in the form of meat, egg, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, 50 grams saturated and unsaturated oils 30 grams of sugar. At the present market price the cost of these food items per person comes to be Rs.154/- per day. This means that a family of five members should spend Rs.770/- per day or Rs.23,100/- per month on food. Barring a miniscule population our people are far from this target.
Several economic experts including the Nobel Laureate Abhijeet Banerjee have suggested several means to alleviate poverty. The basic principle however remains that buying capacity of the people should increase and the government should ensure food security to all citizens.
Various workers organizations have formulated their demand for minimum wage based on these principles. They had demanded contract workers engaged in the central government to be given Rs.26,000/- per month. The central government committee on 7th pay commission had agreed on Rs. 21,000/- but the government notified Rs.18,000/-.
To the utter dismay the government has fixed national minimum wage as Rs.178/- per day or Rs.5340/- per month in the wage code bill approved by the union cabinet. This is despite an internal labour ministry committee recommendation of Rs.375/- per day. No wonder 90 per cent of our population lives on subsistence wage only. This low minimum wage will further increase the inequality and poverty. Large number of our population is in the unorganised sector where the legal formulations are hardly implemented. The farmers and agriculture labour who are the producers are among the worst sufferers. Agriculture labourers have to face double oppression, economic as well as social. With the skewed policies we will never achieve a hunger free India. There is need to have the public discourse around such issues. (IPA Service)