New Delhi: A further 20 million Indians have to battle hunger each night because of the current global economic crisis, the United Nations Children’s Fund, or Unicef, said in a new report on Tuesday.
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The number of chronically hungry people in the region rose by at least 100 million in the past two years, from 300 million to 405 million, Unicef said—the highest increase in the incidence of hunger in 40 years.
The number of hungry in India increased from 209.5 million in 2004-06 to 230 million by end of 2007-08. Unicef defines the hungry as people who consume less than a minimum recommended calorie intake. In South Asia, this is around 2,100 kilocalories per day per person on average.
The report, titled Impact of the Economic Crisis on Women and Children in South Asia, focused on eight countries in the region.
“South Asian countries should bring down their investments in military. These countries spend around 10% of their GDP (gross domestic product) on defence whereas they spend only 2% on education. That is a strange choice in a region where hunger is so abundant,” said Daniel Toole, regional director, South Asia, Unicef. Unicef said an overwhelming majority of South Asian families—especially marginal groups such as the urban poor, rural landless, women and children—have been hit by high inflation and rising food prices in particular.
The number of chronically hungry people in the region rose by at least 100 million in the past two years, from 300 million to 405 million, Unicef said—the highest increase in the incidence of hunger in 40 years. Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint
“Such households typically spend around 80% of their total income on food. Even 5% increase in food prices makes them incredibly vulnerable to hunger,” said Aniruddha Bonnerjee, an analyst involved in preparing the report.
To counter high food prices in the absence of social protection and safety nets, such households consume less nutritious food and stop spending on education. While cheaper food leads to loss of weight and malnutrition among young children, lack of education could lead to an increase in the informal sector workforce, thus breeding more poverty in the long run. The report holds that this is particularly alarming at a time when at least half of South Asia’s population will be in the working age group.
However, S.L. Rao, chairman at the Institute for Social and Economic Change says the situation may not be that bad. “The higher international food prices have not affected the poor in India very badly as we are not a net importer of foodgrains. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the farm loan waiver have put more money in the hands of rural poor. Our problem is we pay less to our farmers when international prices are high,” Rao said.
However, he added, “There is no doubt that we need better social safety nets.”