India’s triumphs over poverty marred by an alarming hunger crisis

The NITI Aayog report shows 13.5 crore escaped poverty, but 74.1 per cent of Indians struggle to afford healthy food.

Published : Jul 21, 2023 12:38 IST - 3 MINS READ

Over 70 per cent of India’s population cannot afford healthy food.

Over 70 per cent of India’s population cannot afford healthy food. | Photo Credit: V.V. Krishnan

Government think-tank NITI Aayog’s recent report, released on July 17, revealed a remarkable achievement in India’s fight against multidimensional poverty. According to the report, a staggering 13.5 crore people successfully emerged from multidimensional poverty between 2016 and 2021. This progress was mirrored in a decline of 9.89 percentage points in the number of multidimensionally poor people, dropping from 24.85 per cent in 2015-16 to 14.96 per cent in 2019-21. The assessment was conducted using three equally weighted dimensions: health, education, and standard of living, keeping in line with the global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI).

However, despite these positive strides in economic development, a consortium of esteemed organisations including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO) had jointly published a report titled “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” earlier on July 12.

Also Read | Multidimensional Poverty Index: A new poverty marker

This report shed light on a disconcerting nutritional trend in India, where a staggering 74.1 per cent of the population cannot afford healthy food. This means that more than 100 crore people in India are compelled to consume food with insufficient nutrition. Comparatively, 10.9 per cent of China’s population faces a similar predicament, reflecting a stark contrast.

Globally, the prevalence of undernourishment, a key measure of hunger, remained relatively unchanged from 2021 to 2022, but it remained significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels. In 2022, approximately 9.2 per cent of the world population faced chronic hunger, compared to 7.9 per cent in 2019.

The issue of undernourishment is also impacting India, as 16.6 per cent of the population remains undernourished. The unavailability of affordable and nutritious food is exacerbating the malnutrition crisis in the country. UNICEF highlighted the adverse effects of undernutrition on economic advancement, leading to reduced productivity, poorer cognition, and unfavourable educational outcomes. Moreover, UNICEF emphasised that undernutrition should be viewed as a manifestation of larger development issues.

Also Read | Starved of data: India’s hungry people go missing from FAO report

A significant challenge lies ahead for India to achieve one of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030: eradicating hunger in all its forms. The report suggests that this goal might be unattainable, projecting that nearly 600 million people could still be facing hunger in 2030. This is an increase of 119 million people compared to a scenario without the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, and approximately 23 million more people compared to a scenario where the war had not occurred.

Among the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), India has the lowest per capita contribution to the economy, as of 2022, and is expected to remain low in the next five years.

This year’s report focussed on the role of urbanisation in promoting the usage of modern agricultural inputs in rural India. A case study based in Bangalore revealed that farmers located farther from the city exhibit a higher utilisation of modern inputs due to the influence of Doddaballapura town in Bangalore’s rural district.

The global scenario also paints a concerning picture, with approximately 29.6 per cent of the global population, amounting to 2.4 billion people, lacking constant access to food. Among them, around 900 million individuals faced severe food insecurity, marking an increase of 134 million people compared to 2019. Disturbingly, the report highlighted that millions of children under the age of five continued to suffer from malnutrition in 2022. Of these children, 148 million (22.3 per cent) were stunted, 45 million (6.8 per cent) were wasted, and 37 million (5.6 per cent) were overweight.

Despite India’s consistent efforts in implementing nutrition programmes such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), mid-day meals, and Poshan Abhiyaan over the years, malnutrition remains a persistent challenge for the country.

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