The Global Hunger Index (GHI) published last week has few indicators of the South Asian regions to eulogise. According to the report prepared by the Welthungerhilfe and the Concern Worldwide, on certain counts the performance by the region has been poorer compared to the year 2000. Of the prevalence of four indicators -- undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality -- on which the GHI is based, child wasting has slightly increased since 2000. No wonder, the UNICEF, the WHO and the World Bank have been unanimous to determine that this is a critical public health emergency for South Asia. Read against the global improvement on all counts, the South Asian performance bracketed with south Saharan Africa is really alarming. True, the rates of undernourishment, child wasting, stunting and mortality of the enormous Indian population has greatly influenced the South Asian performance. Ranked at 103, India together with Pakistan ranked at 106 has done the damage. However, Bangladesh too has not been in an enviable position.
Here is a clear case of childcare, no doubt. But it is much more. Globally, undernourishment has recorded an improvement by registering a fall from 17.6 per cent in 1991-2001 to 12.3 per cent in 2015-17. Similarly, the rate of stunted children under five has fallen from 37.1 per cent in 1998-2002 to 27.9 in 2013-17. Child wasting and child mortality have also decreased from 9.7 to 9.3 per cent and 8.1 per cent to 4.2 per cent respectively around the same period. Bangladesh's score of 26.1 in GHI as against India's 31.1 is much better no doubt but the problems besetting them are alike when the larger picture is drawn. At the level of miniature picture, however, they will be quite dissimilar.
How? As for the larger picture both countries now produce enough foods for their population. It is the availability of food for all the population that really matters. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has shown how hunger obstinately persists in a country even when the quantity of foods required for its population is at its disposal. There are segments of people who cannot afford foods because they are too poor to buy those. If maldistribution of wealth and lack of employment are South Asia's main problem at the macro level, the latest GHI has referred to some other endemic problem at the micro level. Balanced foods are absent because of overwhelming reliance on staples. Hygiene and sanitation also play a role in the maintenance of health.
Bangladesh has gone for crop diversity in recent times and still it is bedevilled by excessive child wasting and child stunting. Let alone the zero hunger as set globally for the ultimate objective of the sustainable development goals, the polarisation of society is putting the poor at a further disadvantage. They cannot afford protein and the required calories in their dishes and the pregnant mothers are the worst sufferers. Even in comparatively well-to-do families, such mothers do not have the foods to eat they need. Thus they pass the malnutrition to their babies and the process is generational. Clearly, favourable government policies and creation of social awareness can adequately address such problems.
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