Despite surplus a third of India's population starves

Thursday, 24 October 2002, 07:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: Even as India's granaries are overflowing the country is faced with the situation of having the world's largest number of hungry people, says a report by a premier research institute prepared with U.N. help.

About a third of the country's one billion people starve for want of adequate food and some 160 million go without even one square meal a day, says the study by the U.N. World Food Programme and the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation.

This is a strange irony for a country with an abundance of food stocks rotting away in warehouses and exporting millions of tonnes of food grain.

The food insecurity atlas comes in the midst of several reported starvation deaths from Rajasthan, where people in some villages are said to be eating grass and seeds out of desperation.

The study, which gives a food insecurity atlas for urban India, says while 24 percent of the country are poor, the number of its underfed is much more. About 31 percent of the people consume less than 2,100 calories per person per day.

Even if 2,100 calories was too high to define the starving, it was estimated that 16.2 percent of urban India was consuming less than 1,890 calories per person.

The atlas puts large parts of the country within the food insecure zone, the worst affected being Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Chhattisgarh.

Madhya Pradesh has a high number of poor, low literacy, a large slum population and poor access to drinking water, hospitals and basic nutrition.

Next is Orissa, which has seen very poor urbanisation and has high poverty. Low wages and literacy levels combined with low life expectancy make this state one of the worst suffering in the country.

The states severely food insecure are populous Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Low life expectancy and health facilities are complemented by high degrees of poverty and illiteracy in the two northern states.

Haryana, Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka, Assam and Punjab are moderately well off. Even Rajasthan is in this category, despite reports of starvation deaths in some of its villages.

But states that are precariously poised are Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal - surprisingly despite their image of technology and industry savvy.

Among the states that are most secure in availability of food are Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi.

Himachal Pradesh fares the best with good consumption of food and comparatively fewer poor people, as well as the second largest literacy rate after the most literate state of Kerala.

Jammu and Kashmir, hit by a dragging violent separatist campaign, can take comfort from its performance in terms of availability of food and basic amenities to its citizen.

Delhi's proximity to the food surplus states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh has contributed to its secure status.

The study blames many factors for the lack of food to many, including growth in urban slums and the failure of the public distribution system (PDS) in reaching the poorest of the poor.

The poor state of PDS system has manifested itself in unreliable availability, poor quality, low purchase from ration shops and piling up of unused stocks in state-run warehouses.

The report said PDS, aimed at providing food grains to the poor at lower prices, had missed its target consumers -- as witnessed in the burgeoning and rotting food stocks.

The report suggests that to enable low-income consumers across India to eat well, food grains have to be made available at affordable prices. The existing public distribution system network should be made universal, it says, and their management passed on to consumer self-help groups.
Source: IANS
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