By Prof Satya Narayan Misra in Bhubaneswar, October 17, 2023: The Sustainable Development Goal 2 seeks to create a world free of hunger by 2030. However, an alarming increase has been noticed since 2015; a trend exacerbated by a deadly cocktail of conflict, climate change, and COVID-19. By 2022 around 9.2% of the world population (735 million) suffer from a state of chronic hunger, around 2.4 billion face severe food insecurity,148 million children are stunted and 45 million are affected by wasting.

The latest GHI report released by two oversight agencies, Concern Worldwide, and Welt Hunger Life countries broadly buttresses the above findings. However, what is of enormous concern to India is that it has the highest child wasting, (low weight for height) globally at 18.7%. This is the worst form of child undernutrition. In terms of childhood stunting (low height for weight), India is rated to be at very high risk & in terms of undernutrition it is at medium risk, with around 16.6% undernourished. Ranked 111 among 125 countries, the glow of the G20 summit masks India’s lamentable record in containing nagging hunger of our children.

The four parameters, viz: undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting, and child mortality are taken into account for arriving at a composite global hunger index score. The lower the score the better the performance of the country. For Instance, while China has reduced its score from 13.5 in the year 2000 to less than 5 in 2022, India’s record is rather unedifying.

From a score of 38.6 in 2000 it brought it down to 28.2 in 2014 which has now increased to 29.1 as against a global average of 18.2.Ironically, the Manmohan regime has witnessed a fall in the hunger index while the Modi era is characterized by an increasing trend which sits uneasily on the rhetoric of Anemia Mukt Bharat. The Poshan program (2018) has set a target to reduce anemia and stunting by 3% a year as against less than 1 % reduction during the Congress regime. This has remained unrealized.

The latest GHI report has understandably raised hackles in the Modi Government. The mandarins of Modi aver that the methodology is faulty. They believe that the selection of three indicators regarding the health of children is not representative of the entire population; little realizing that the child ‘s health is the gateway to demographic dividend. Further, the detractors believe that the proportion of undernourishment arrived based on an opinion poll with a sample size of 3000 is faulty.

There is considerable merit in this observation. However, the statement of Government of India that “There is hardly any evidence that child mortality is an outcome of hunger”, defies all logic. The government believes that as per the Poshan tracker, the % age of wasting is 7.3% as against 18.7% as per the GHI report. This is quite clearly ludicrous as the NFHS V (2019 to 2021) has put the overall figure of wasting at 19.3 %.

Danielle Resnick of the Brookings Institution in a perceptive article in GHI Report writes that the recent trend towards decentralizing government function has given local government greater autonomy and authority. Decision-makers must put inclusive local governance, accountability, and realization of the right to food at the center of the food system as the food system in its current form is inadequate for the task of substantially ending poverty and hunger. He also brings out that there is a need to raise awareness of the right to Food.

A country like Kenya in its constitution provides in Article 43 “Every person has a right to be free from hunger “. Further Article 50 states “Every child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter & healthcare “. In contrast in the Indian Constitution, while the right to education for children from the age of 6 to 14 has become a fundamental right (Article 21 A) since 2009, raising the level of nutrition (Art 47) remains a goal for the state and not a fundamental right of its citizens. Be it Manmohan or Modi, default on the goal of improving nutrition levels is a continuum and is trundling along without accountability.

The heart of liberal democracy is providing socio-economic justice to all its citizens. Be it John Rawls’ Idea of Justice or Amartya Sen’s clarion call to the State to provide equal access to human capability, India’s record after economic liberalization from 1991 shows scant concern for the social sector imperatives like quality school education, basic healthcare at affordable cost and minimal nutrition to all.

There is a serious mismatch between improvements in growth parameters like growth, savings, and FDI inflow and tardy progress in development variables like quality schooling, basic health care, sanitation, and access to minimal nutrition. The GHI report rightly believes that the government must respect, protect, and fulfill their right to food and it shouldbe enshrined in national law and supported by a mechanism for redressing grievance. Each country must strengthen inclusive coverage of food and nutrition policies at all levels, ensure citizen’s participation in action and oversight, and consider the local context.

It must scale up resources to address pressing humanitarian needs while ensuring that the food systems are resilient to shocks. Instead of quibbling over the methodological flaws of the Global Hunger Index by independent Global oversight agencies, the Modi government would do well to take note of the well-thought-out recommendation of the GHI report.

Jeffrey Sachs observes in his book Ages of Globalization the developing a collaborative model where the government agencies, empathetic corporates and local community leaders are partners instead of leaving it to the state alone is the way forward for better realization of targets in development programs like nutrition. It is indeed a travesty of justice that a country which has come out of the quagmire of food aid of USA’s PL 480 through the green revolution to be self-sufficient in food has a lamentable record in providing minimal nutrition, vitamins and micronutrients to our poor children and vulnerable adolescent girls, 50% of whom suffer from anemia.

Quite clearly our supply chain management is at fault and the executing agencies are not being pulled up for dereliction of responsibility. This is where democratic responsibility, accountability assumes critical salience. Bereft of accountability, the Modi juggernaut is using hollow hypes and trying to divide Indians on religious lines to succeed in electoral politics. The time to improve our food system architecture and making Right to Food as a Fundamental Right has become overdue. Hopefully, the upcoming elections are fought on development rather than divisive issues.

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