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A very hungry, and angry, world

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on March 08, 2018 Published on September 27, 2017

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Feed me, what’s happening?

Here’s your food for thought: The number of hungry people are on the planet is on the rise. This, after falling steadily for more than a decade, and despite all the great advancements we’ve achieved in areas such as farm production, food storage and distribution and last-mile connectivity.

Pathetic. But who’s found this out?

Many recent studies; most importantly, the ‘State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017’, a report from the United Nations, which was released last week. And this is not your regular UN report: it was prepared jointly by UN agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UNICEF the World Food Programme (WFP) and the WHO.

According to the report, some 815 million people battled hunger last year. That’s a whopping 11 per cent of the global population, and that’s an increase of about 40 million from 2015. Asia has 520 million hungry people; 243 million in Africa and 42 million in Latin America and the Caribbean. And worse, this club of the hapless include millions of children, as the UN has found out.

Oh, that’s terrible.

In fact, the UN says about 155 million children aged under five are stunted; which means they are too short for their age, and some 52 million have body weight way below the required levels.

But what are the causes?

The study has singled out two key reasons: climate change and conflicts. Both may seem independent of each other, but of late in several trouble zones of the planet these two reasons merge mercilessly, forcing people to starve, kill and flee in search of ‘green’ pastures.

Of the 815 million hungry people, 489 million live in conflict countries. In June 2017, the UNHCR, which tracks global refugee movement, said forced displacement was at its highest in decades worldwide, at 65.6 million. Millions feel war zones such as Syria and geographies such as South Sudan, where famine and civil wars wreak havoc.

What about India?

To be fair, India has done a decent job of tackling hunger. The share of total population facing undernourishment in India came down to 14.5 per cent during 2014-16 from 20.5 per cent in 2004-06. But the pace at which this has been happening is not so great. Plus, thanks to misfired economic liberalisation, income inequality is shooting up, aggravating malnourishment and undernourishment.

If you remember, last year the IMF had warned India and China of rising inequality and associated social risk of growing inequality. India’s Gini coefficient, an index that measures income inequality across the globe, rose to 51.4 by 2016, from 45 in 1990.

Yes, and have you seen Piketty’s recent paper on this?

Yes, thanks. What’s interesting in the paper ‘India Income Inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj?’, authored by Thomas Piketty anf fellow French economist Lucas Chancel, is that it says income inequality in India at its highest level since 1922, where the top 1 per cent commanding 22 per cent of all income. Interestingly, this a ratio has shot up over the past three decades.

Ouch!

Now, juxtapose this against India’s rankings in the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute’s Global Hunger Index, the latest of which was out in October 2016 — India ranks 97 among the 118 developing nations, standing way below all our neighbours except for Pakistan, and you get the dirty link between inequality and hunger.

A weekly column that helps you ask the right questions

Published on September 27, 2017

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