Hunger and Malnutrition in India

India’s overall economic progress is analysed through qualitative as well as quantitative indicators. In terms of money, each and every sector in the economy performs accordingly with the passage of time. Along with the quantitative aspects, the qualitative aspects also ensure a great deal of support in determining the progress of a country. With respect to the quantitative aspect, India has had a fair performance; however, when it comes to the qualitative aspect, India’s performance has been very low. Qualitative indicators include poverty level, life expectancy, Human Development Index (HDI) etc. While assessing poverty ratio, we observe that it constitutes two main indices, namely, hunger and malnutrition.

Hunger can be defined as the “caloric intake below the amount of energy needed to perform light activity and to maintain a minimum acceptable weight for attained height.” The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) states that “all hungry people suffer from malnutrition, but people who are malnourished may not be hungry. They may get sufficient raw calories to avoid hunger, but lack essential micro nutrients, or they may even consume an excess of raw calories and hence suffer from obesity.” Similarly, the World Health Organization refers to the term as, “deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and nutrients.

The Indian scenario

In India, it is known that over 40% of the children are severely malnourished and unfortunately every year there are 2.5 million child deaths which approximately account for one in every five deaths in the world. The national policies enacted over the years have become ineffective due to the lack of skilled implementation and also corruption in various departments.

In the Global Hunger Index 2018 (GHI), India was ranked 103rd out of 119 countries and among the developing nations with high growth rates this ranking represents the juxtaposition between growth and inequality along with the dismal performance the nation has been exhibiting over the past decade. In 2000, India scored 38.8 which continued in the same way till 2005 – 07 until it fell further to 32.2 in 2010 and again fell later to 31.1 in 2018. A major central issue is cleanliness and sanitation. Children in urban and rural slums are prone to germs because of open drainage systems and deposition of faeces everywhere near their localities. This makes them liable to contract various life-risking diseases. In fact, defecation in open areas shows that the around 52.1% of the rural population and 7.5% of the urban population are exposed to unhygienic sanitary conditions wherein people in crowded areas are prone to many diseases as per the National Sample Survey (May 2015).

Major reasons for hunger and malnutrition

We notice that in Indian families where there is lack of parity between the male and female members factors such as an early marriage combined with illiteracy and low weight at pregnancy can be correlated, resulting in new born babies weighing less than average. Poor childcare practices like not breastfeeding the child immediately after birth or not continually feeding him/her for the first five months also adds up to this problem. Government schemes and services such as immunization programs often are unable to reach the grassroots, and there is also lack of access to basic health facilities.

The growing concern for the lack of assurance from the Food Security Act is to be duly noted. Large provisions of food grains are being transferred to the underprivileged sections of the society but those grains are not of good quality and majority of the receivers complain for it not being fit for consumption. Another situation prevailing in the agrarian sector is the lack of storehouses for farmers. In fact, only if farming cooperatives of every village would have options to access storehouses (storage facilities) it would induce greater bargaining power to the farming community but instead what transpires is that with the lack of advancements in technology, farmers are forced to sell whatever they have from their existing stock of produce and are left with minimal produce for consumption. Sadly, this acts as another cause for hunger and malnutrition to parade in the lives of their families.

This deplorable condition also has an adverse socio-economic impact, as studies have shown that India loses a significant sum of money each year through the expenditures incurred on healthcare costs and the low productivity of workers, with an additional burden on the education system.
Remedial measures are being aimed to be put in place.

Despite all these issues, the Government has introduced various polices over all regions in India. Some of its most popular measures include the Public Distribution System (PDS) which made some staple food items like food grains and sugar cheaper, and the advent of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme which gained universal attention as it catered to direct nutrition supplementation programs while also uplifting students from various economic scenarios. In later years, the government followed up with Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) which focused on aiding children up to 6 years of age, lactating mothers etc.

The provisions of the Food Security Act must be revised thoroughly and its further recommendations must be evaluated with stringent supervision from the Government’s point of view. When the targeted Public Distribution System is thoroughly monitored, it gives the disadvantaged groups a sense of equality and respect, as their basic rights are not hampered by colluding activities such as faulty measurements in fair price shops, better quality grains being replaced by poor quality grains and re-selling these better quality produce to private entities at greater prices. Better awareness programs should be established by the government and non-governmental organizations hand in hand to educate families in rural areas about the aspects of effective family planning programs. Education of the girl child especially in rural families should be a priority as it is only through their social upliftment and economic independence, that their contribution towards the greater labour force can result in increasing aggregate production in order to meet the growing demands.

Medical dispensaries should be updated and equipped with latest facilities in every rural area to treat patients facing severe malnutrition. It should also be ensured that pregnant mothers are not underweight before the time of pregnancy and also during their lactation period. Similarly, ‘anganwadis’ or the rural child care centres started by the ICDs must be transformed as centres of knowledge through their constant interaction with the general public. A decent pay must be ensured by the Government to the anganwadi workers and they should also receive updates on a regular basis regarding changes in the measuring indicators for identifying malnourished children and necessary suggestions on how to avert such cases in future. Sanitation projects must be undertaken seriously in both rural and urban areas whereby effective measures if implemented can reduce the impact of various diseases creeping into numerous localities.

Need for an integrated approach

The perils of malnourishment are still visible in the economy even though effective measures are being adopted by the government at the Central and State levels. When a sizeable proportion of the country’s population become malnourished and anaemic, it occurs due to the involvement of negative factors like poverty, unemployment, ignorance and lack of education etc. with failure in timely implementation of government schemes. Majority of the reasons for the occurrence of hunger and malnutrition, and the solutions to overcome these challenges are known. A cautious approach needs to be taken for understanding what prevents the nation from achieving its goals related to nutrition. The agencies of State governments must adopt comprehensive and coordinated multi-sectoral approaches, which should be formulated by taking into account the varying nature of local-level challenges. Quality levels of performance must be ensured by the various agencies towards eradicating situations like malnutrition, hunger and poverty in contemporary times.

Despite the induction of various programs by the Government we still see that hunger and malnutrition have not reduced much as was envisaged. This occurs mainly due to changing governments, corruption in various levels of the administration, errors in selection of trained personnel and poor allocation of resources. Rampant discrimination on the basis of social barriers like gender, caste, faith and disability also discourages people from claiming various benefits and concessions.

Picture Courtesy- Outlook India

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