India Needs Independence From Hunger

August 14, 2012

demonstrators in india
Low-income demonstrators in Amritsar on May 7,2012. (Photo Narinder Nanu/AFP/GettyImages)

This August 15, India will celebrate its 65th year of independence from the British Empire. Since then, the country has seen some improvements in the livelihoods of the poorest of its citizens. However, India still has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world.

Millions lack adequate sanitation and die of easily preventable diseases such as diarrhea (the satirical newspaper The Onion did a hilarious take on this during India’s recent electricity blackout). In many parts of northern India, maternal mortality rates exceed those of Sub-Saharan Africa.

42% of children under five are underweight and 59% are stunted. Of the children suffering from stunting, about half are severely stunted.
The Government of India and the states have the money to end malnutrition if there was the will to do so. But money is not the problem. It requires a complete overhaul of the system currently in place to ensure that food is not rotting in storage facilities while children go hungry nearby. It requires a concerted effort to provide improved sanitation for all Indians. And it requires increased resources to educate and empower women.

Human needs are human rights and the Government of India and the state governments have not fulfilled their obligations under the  UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

A recent survey conducted by an Indian NGO, the Naandi Foundation, found that in a survey of 100 districts across India, “42% of children under five are underweight and 59% are stunted. Of the children suffering from stunting, about half are severely stunted.”

The study also showed the following:

  • Girls were more likely to be malnourished;
  • There was considerably less malnutrition in families where mothers were better educated;
  • Those households without a toilet are more likely to see severe level of malnutrition.

The report was a devastating but necessary corrective on India’s economic growth. India has been independent for 65 years. Let’s hope that by India’s 70th birthday, we can celebrate an end to malnutrition and easily preventable diseases.