As we furrow our brows over the global financial crisis hitting these shores, a large number of Indians won’t be fretting. Simply because they’re too occupied worrying about how to get their next meal. According to the 2008 Global Hunger Index, compiled by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), India ranks 66 out of the 88 countries surveyed and has the highest prevalence of underweight children (more than 40 per cent). The three indicators of the index are: prevalence of child malnutrition, rates of child mortality and the proportion of people who are calorie deficient. We, aspiring global power, score badly in all three slots.
These rankings were made using pre-2006 data and do not reflect the ongoing ‘crisis’ of rising food prices. So brace for some darker figures next time around. Along with this index, the IFPRI has also released a ranking of Indian states. Madhya Pradesh has the most severe level of hunger in the country, followed by Jharkhand and Bihar. Punjab and Kerala scored the best on the index.
But the most-alarming fact is that not a single Indian state has made it to the respectable ‘low hunger’ or ‘moderate hunger’ category. Of the 17 major states included in the study, 12 fall in the ‘alarming’ category, and one state — Madhya Pradesh — falls in the ‘extremely alarming’ category. Interestingly, even high growth states, such as Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, have high levels of hunger. Which proves that there is a large pool of people who go hungry simply because they have no purchasing power.
In the face of such an every-increasing gap, it is important that the government strengthens the Public Distribution System instead of toying with the idea of phasing it out. The State needs to step in and bail out the poorest of the poor. It needs to make sure that people have the money to buy food and there is food that reaches those in calamitous conditions. One could increase the number of days of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and remove the one-member per family cap. Feed the nation first. Then we’ll talk about global standing.