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Growing shame of hunger

Oct 15, 2008

A new Global Hunger Index released simultaneously in India, the United States and Germany yesterday is a reminder of the alarming hunger situation. OneWorld South Asia opines that misplaced priorities and flawed policies of governments are responsible for the sufferings of people.

The numbers are staggering. A new Global Hunger Index collated by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) quoting Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) says 923 million people in the world go hungry every day.

The report says that to overcome the global food crisis and to halve poverty and hunger by 2015, as stipulated in the Millennium Development Goals, the world needs to spend at least US$ 14 billion per annum with an additional investment of five billion for Sub-Saharan Africa (To read more, please click here).

Contrast these figures with 700 billion dollars recently shelled out by the US Administration to bail out the American stock market with an additional 85 billion dollars allocated earlier to rescue an insurance giant.

And seeing the European Union coming together in a huddle with a resolve to solve the crisis, the skewed priorities of developed nations become all too apparent.

UN agencies have been crying hoarse for quite some time now to provide 755 million dollars in emergency funds to continue feeding the hungry but there are no listeners.

'Volcanic situation'

Is it the scarcity of food that is causing hunger? No. In an interview to British newspaper Guardian earlier this year, Josette Sheeran, head of the UN’s World Food Programme had said: “There is food in shelves but people are priced out of the market. There is vulnerability in urban areas we have not seen before. There are food riots in countries where we have not seen them before.”

At the release of the Index yesterday in the Indian capital, Professor G.K. Chadha, member of Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council termed it as a ‘volcanic situation’ and said that it was a shame that a “sizeable chunk of humanity cannot have two square meals a day.”

A recent World Bank report had suggested that 1.4 billion people in the developing world were living on less than US$ 1.25 a day. Bring in this net the people earning two dollars a day and the figure will shoot up exponentially. A three to five dollars more and almost the whole humanity of six billion plus people will be found to be living a wretched life. What’s happening?

Hunger is violence

It is a violence of the worst kind and hugely impinges upon human rights of people across the globe. You perhaps don’t need to look at your affluent neighbour to make you aware of your own poverty, as suggested by John Kenneth Galbraith, a celebrated American economist of yester years. He had perhaps missed the point that when excruciating poverty squeezes flesh and blood out of you, it does not need comparisons.

In June this year at the World Food Summit at Rome, the IFPRI had pointed out that around 40 food-exporting countries had imposed some sorts of trade restriction on food. One of its studies calculated that getting rid of these would reduce prices of cereals world over by an average of 30%. Who is interested?

Back home in India we have political parties, bureaucracy, judiciary and business houses of all hue and colour working in tandem to pursue their common goal of implementing the neoliberal agenda for past close to two decades now.

Had they succeeded in pursuing it with desired ferocity, we would have been in much greater a mess than we are in now, as suggested in an article on the current global financial crisis in Economic and Political Weekly [September 27-October 3, 2008; Vol XLIII No.39].

Attacking the smugness of the political class, it goes on to say that it is not the correctness of Indian policy decisions, but because of intense social pressure that has prevented the authorities from inflicting radical reforms on the financial sector.

Pervasive poverty

Last year the Arjun Sengupta Committee report gave shocking figures that suggested the pervasiveness of poverty in India. According to the report, there were four distinct groups – extremely poor, poor, marginal and vulnerable, with a per capita expenditure of Rs 9, Rs 12, Rs 15 and Rs 20 a day respectively.

The number of such people was 836 million. Out of which 82% were Dalits, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, and Muslims. This number, the report says, has risen over the last decade, from 733 million in 1993-94 to 836 million in 2004-05.

Utsa Patnaik from Jawaharlal Nehru University wrote in an article, published in EPW on July 28, 2007, that food grain absorption in the country had fallen. It was 155.7 kg per person on average (for 2000-2003), even less than it was for British India in 1933-38, when it was 159.3 kgs.

She has argued that if one were to consider poverty estimations by calorific intake, then rural poverty would be as high as 87%.

Gazing at the cover of the recent report, young children sitting in a row against a worn out wall with food bowls in front of them, reminded me of the famous mural painting, The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.

I began searching for Christ among them. All resembled Him. And who was Mary Magdalene among them? May be all of THEM. And Judas? Was he hiding behind the wall surreptitiously hatching conspiracies to kill more Christs?

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