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Stepping out of the shadow of India’s malnutrition

  • IASbaba
  • November 28, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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HEALTH/ GOVERNANCE

Topic: General Studies 1, 2:

  • Issues relating to poverty and hunger. 
  • Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

Stepping out of the shadow of India’s malnutrition

Context: Two recent reports — the annual report on “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020” by FAO and the 2020 Hunger report, “Better Nutrition, Better Tomorrow” by the Bread for the World Institute – document staggering facts about Indian food insecurity and malnutrition.

The Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU)

  • The PoU measures the percentage of people who are consuming insufficient calories than their required minimum dietary energy requirement.
  • In India, malnutrition has not declined as much as the decline has occurred in terms of poverty.
  • In terms of percentages, the PoU has declined 24.7% between 2001 and 2018 for India; whereas that for China (76.4%), Nepal (74%), Pakistan (42%), Afghanistan (37.4%) and Bangladesh (18.9%). 
  • It must be noted that the decline in China is way higher than that of India, even though it had started with lower levels of PoU in 2000.
  • In contrast, Afghanistan (47.8%) that started with a higher base than India (18.6%) had experienced higher rates of decline.
  • Of note is the fact that, economically, while Afghanistan is relatively much poorer and has gone through several prolonged conflicts in last two decades, it has been more successful in reducing malnutrition than India.
  • Therefore, irrespective of the base level of PoU, most of these countries have done better than India on this dimension.

Prevalence of Moderate or Severe Food Insecurity (PMSFI)

  • These findings also get substantiated through Food Insecurity Experience Scale survey, which covers almost 90% of the world’s population. 
  • Because it is not allowed to be conducted in India, direct estimates are not available.
  • However, estimates indicate that between 2014-16, about 29.1% of the total population in India was food insecure, which rose up to 32.9% in 2017-19. 
  • In terms of absolute number, about 375 million of the total population was moderately or severely food insecure in 2014, which went to about 450 million in 2019.

Why National Food Security Act – 2013 failed to tackle malnutrition?

Despite the act ensuring every citizen “access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices”, two crucial elements that still got left out which were

  • The non-inclusion of nutritious food items such as pulses 
  • Exclusion of potential beneficiaries. 

Dangers in coming days

  • The problem of malnutrition is likely to deepen in the coming years with rising unemployment and the deep economic slump.
  • The current COVID-19 pandemic would make the situation worse in general, more so for vulnerable groups.

Way Ahead

  • A major shift in policy has to encompass the immediate universalisation of the Public Distribution System which should definitely not be temporary in nature
  • There has to be distribution of quality food items and innovative interventions such as the setting up of community kitchens among other things.
  • The need of the hour remains the right utilisation and expansion of existing programmes to ensure that we arrest at least some part of this burgeoning malnutrition in the country.

Connecting the dots:

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