Hunger statistics

  • 30/12/2002

Hunger statistics FOOD INSECURITY ATLAS OF RURAL INDIA . FOOD INSECURITY ATLAS OF URBAN INDIA . M S Swaminathan Research Foundation . World Food Programme . 2001 and 2002

"Indian famines are famines of work, not of food. Where there is work, there is money. Where there is money there is food." These words of Baird Smith, who investigated the causes of a serious famine in North West India way back in 1856, hold true even today.

India may have overflowing granaries and a comfortable annual food-grain production record, but its poorest of the poor, both in urban and rural areas, barely have adequate food and nutritional security. Such facts, and more, are presented in two recent reports - Food Insecurity Atlas of Rural India and Food Insecurity Atlas of Urban India - published by M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Chennai.

The two titles clearly indicate how out of touch with reality the government"s economic liberalisation policies are. Even as India"s political leadership nurses the dream of a developed nation, food security levels in both the rural and urban areas are slipping drastically.

The underlying statement seems to be - "We cannot wait for the per capita income growth to trickle down. We cannot wait for overall development to take place to reduce hunger and deprivation."

The reports put in perspective what development economists have been arguing for years: jobs and livelihoods must be the bottom line of India"s economic and development policies.

There is an urgent need to revert to the universal public distribution system (UPDS), which was replaced with the targeted public distribution system (TPDS) a few years ago, to ensure nutritional security for a large section of the population.

The two reports look at the issue of food security from three different angles:

Availability of food, which depends on production and distribution;

Access to food, which is guided by one"s purchasing power;

Food absorption, which indicates the body"s ability to assimilate the food eaten for leading a long and healthy life.

In spite of development efforts and programmes aimed at eliminating hunger and deprivation, millions of people are still consuming diets deficient in calories and nutrients.

Sustainable food security, the reports say, is "physical, economic, social and ecological access to balanced diets and safe drinking water, so as to enable every individual to lead a productive and healthy life in perpetuity."

A look at the two reports in a little more detail:
Food insecurity in urban India The authors used 17 indicators such as daily calorie intake, type of housing, illiteracy rates, infant mortality rate (IMR), juvenile sex ratio, life expectancy, percentage of population below poverty line and percentage of casual labour among the poorest 10 per cent living in urban areas, among others, to measure food security, or the lack of it.

There are three basic features that distinguish an urban settlement from a rural one: the size of the settlement in terms of population; the density of population; and the nature of workforce in the settlement. A town, in comparison to a village, is relatively larger in size, more crowded, with a greater percentage of workers engaged in non-agricultural activities.

The pattern of urbanisation in India is closely linked to the overall process of development. While in the post-Independence period, India made substantial progress in the agricultural, industrial and social sectors, there has also been a high degree of imbalance in the development process. As far as the agricultural sector is concerned, comprehensive technological and institutional breakthroughs did not come about and even the Green Revolution was confined to a narrow base, creating limitede enclaves of agricultural growth.

The "Atlas" points out that food insecurity in urban areas is spawned by poverty in rural India. The poor, who migrate from rural to urban areas seeking better livelihoods, are illiterate and unskilled; the vast majority of them are unable to enter the organised industrial sector and consequently coalesce into a bloated informal sector of poorly paid day labourers trapped in an uncertain and precarious existence. For people in this informal sector, poor sanitation is a direct factor contributing to hunger and malnutrition. Open-air defecation and sewage waste, contaminated drinking water and widespread garbage provide a fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes and flies, especially during floods.

The problem of food security in urban areas is thus closely linked to the overall development experience of the country. Urban growth in India is more a result of rural distress than an outcome of agricultural modernisation or rapid industrialisation.

The report on India looks at the problem of food security in different categories of urban habitats - metropolitan cities, big towns, medium towns and small towns - across various states in the country. All the major states (excluding the six north-eastern states, Sikkim and Goa) and the Union Territories of Chandigarh and Pondicherry were studied.

The analysis shows that there are wide variations in the nature and extent of food insecurity within urban populations. The problems are far more acute in smaller towns, due to the relatively higher levels of casual labour, illiteracy and lack of access to basic amenities such as drinking water, toilets and electricity. In metropolitan cities, it is the affordability, rather than the availability, of food that is the major problem faced by the poorer sections.

The four states that occupy the lower rungs of the urban food insecurity ladder are Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Bihar - with urban populations in Madhya Pradesh being the worst off. Madhya Pradesh has a high percentage of poverty, with high rates of casual labour among the lowest 10 per cent of the population, a high percentage of illiterates and slum dwellers and low life expectancy rates.

The states that occupy the first, second and third positions on the list are Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Delhi respectively. But these three states vary greatly in terms of levels of urbanisation. Only 10 per cent of Himachal Pradesh"s population lives in urban areas, most of them in small towns with less than 50,000 people. About one-fourth of the people of Jammu & Kashmir people are urban residents, with more than half of them living in medium-size towns with populations of around 200,000. Delhi is almost completely urban, with 93 per cent of its population living in the city.

Himachal Pradesh tops the list due to a variety of factors such as high calorie consumption by lower income groups, high literacy level, comparatively decent basic amenities and the best "hospital bed-availability" in the country - one for every 144 persons.

Jammu & Kashmir has the highest calorie consumption by the urban poor, lowest levels of poverty, fewer temporary constructions and semi-permanent houses and the lowest Scheduled Caste population in urban areas. But on the downside, it has a not so low number of casual labourers and a low literacy level.

The virtue of being the capital city and its close proximity to three food grain surplus states - Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh - gives Delhi one of the top slots in terms of food security. Large amounts of development funds have ensured that the city has much better basic amenities. Only 20 per cent of its population lives in slums and infant mortality rates are very low.

The report also suggests policy measures that may improve the food security situation in urban areas: universalisation of the public distribution system, food-for-work programmes for urban casual labourers, ease of pressure on urban green belts, life-cycle approach to nutrition, waste-water recycling and environmental hygiene.

Food insecurity in rural India
Among the 16 states considered for mapping food security, Bihar (including Jharkhand) ranks the lowest, followed by Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa.

In terms of the 19 indicators used for calculating food security - such as rural population below the poverty line, rural infrastructure, health infrastructure, percentage of underweight children, female literacy, ratio of food consumption to production, and vulnerability to floods, heavy rains and landslides - Bihar scores the lowest.

Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa, also severely insecure states, have high levels of poverty, poor health facilities, high child, infant and maternal mortality and low life expectancy rates. But what is interesting is that the spread of hunger is much lower in these states than in many others. The major reason for this could be the lower percentage of landless people. There is greater physical access to food, but lower levels of income.

The livelihood access position is not good in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Bihar, it is better in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Despite better food and livelihood access, the nutritional status in all these states is bad.

Punjab tops the rural food security list, closely followed by Himachal Pradesh. Both these states have fewer problems with availability, access and absorption of food. They are far ahead of others in per capita production, consumption of diversified foods and livelihood access. They also have better rural and health infrastructures, higher female literacy and better nutrition for both adults and children. One major problem faced particularly by Punjab is environmental sustainability. Its forest area is the lowest and rainfall is also low. Although the Himalayan rivers provide sustained irrigation, ground water exploitation in the state is the highest in the country.

After Punjab and Himachal Pradesh come the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Although livelihood opportunities there are limited, they have better health facilities and infrastructures, lower infant mortality rates and a relatively high female literacy level.

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