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Saturday, July 7, 2012

India's children starving to death while grain rots in fields

The Irish Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2012

India's children starving to death while grain rots in fields

RAHUL BEDI in New Delhi

A watchman sits next to sacks of rotten wheat at Dera Mir
Miran village in Punjab, north India, last week. Every day
3,000 Indian children die from malnutrition-related illnesses

MORE THAN 3,000 children die each day across India from illnesses related to malnutrition and hunger, yet millions of tonnes of rodent-infested grain rot in fields across the north of the country.

Alarmingly high levels of hunger, undernourished children and poorly fed women were all due to a massive shortage of grain storage facilities and a corrupt public distribution system, officials have conceded. This resulted in India dropping to 67th of 81 developing nations in the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Global Hunger Index 2011.

Compounding the situation is a highly complex and expensive regime of grain subsidies for farmers, coupled with bureaucratic rules that would rather see the grain rot than distributed at low cost or given free to the desperately poor and needy.

“This is a case of criminal neglect by the government,” D Raja, an MP from the opposition Communist Party of India said.

More than 30 per cent of India’s population of more than 1.2 billion – some 400 million people – live below the poverty line.

Food insecurity is so rampant, even though India is the world’s largest producer of milk and edible oils and the second-largest producer of wheat and sugar, that it has been clubbed with minor economies such as Bangladesh, Timor-Leste and Yemen.

A government-sponsored survey earlier this year revealed that 42 per cent of children under the age of five were underweight – almost double the number in sub-Saharan Africa – compared to 43 years ago. This led prime minister Manmohan Singh to admit that malnutrition was a “national shame” that jeopardised the nation’s health. However, this did not result in remedial measures.

The report also indicated that the increase in hunger in India was in inverse proportion to its economic growth. At the start of India’s economic liberalisation era in the early 90s, 24 per cent of its population of about 1.2 billion were undernourished. (...)

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