For one person out of six in the World, the New Year is unlikely to be a happy one. For them it is another Hungry New Year. In India hunger will be felt more as one person out of 4 may remain hungry in 2010.
Chronic Hunger increasing
The number of under nourished people in the World is steadily increasing for the last 10 to 18 years. From 845 million in 1992, the number of people who eats less than their minimum dietary energy requirement increased to more than 1000 million in 2009. In India the increase was from 210 million in 1992 to 250 million hungry people in 2006. The irony of the situation in India is that this period between 1992 and 2006 was the period of rapid growth in economy in terms of GDP. The realisation that economic reforms have not benefited the poorest section of our society might have been the reason for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ‘s recent defensive remark while addressing the conference of Indian Economic Association.
“As far as poverty is concerned, the facts are quite clear. The percentage of population below the poverty line has certainly not increased. In fact it has continued to decline after the economic reforms at least at the same rate as it did before.”
It is true that in the World as a whole the percentage of population who are undernourished decreased between 1992 and 2006 though the absolute numbers continue to increase. Now new estimates of 2009 predict an increase in percentage also of undernourished.
As per Food and Agriculture Organisation’s statistics India show an increase not only in absolute number but also in percentage of under nourished population in recent years.
Why hunger is increasing?
A common myth is that people are hungry because there is not enough food available or because of over-population. However, it is almost always poverty that prevents people from buying what is readily available in their local markets, rather than food shortages.
The number of undernourished in the world was actually declining in the 1970s and 1980s in spite of relatively rapid population growth during those decades and the proportion of undernourished in developing countries was declining quite rapidly.
At that time, large investments in the agriculture sector (including for scientific research, rural roads and irrigation) led to rapid growth in cereal yields and lower cereal prices that, in turn, significantly reduced food insecurity. During those decades, the proportion of government spending devoted to agriculture was also relatively high.
During the 1990s and the current decade, however, the number of undernourished has risen, despite the benefit of slower population growth. Primary reasons for this includes increase in poverty, reduced investment in agriculture, reduced production and rise in prices.
Food inflation in India
India is in the grip of scary food inflation with prices of food products going up the roof. The food inflation rate is almost 20%. Failure of monsoons and floods in some States are thought to be the reason. Such high inflation rates will surely increase the number of undernourished in India.
How many are poor in India?
This question is very difficult to answer and we can only get an estimate of the extent of poverty in India. A new debate has started about the methodology of estimating poverty after the publishing of report of Expert Group on Methodology for Estimation of Poverty, chaired By Prof. Suresh D. Tendulkar and appointed by the Planning Commission.
Using the new method suggested by the Committee, the new poverty lines for 2004-05 have been re-estimated to be as Rs. 446.68 for rural areas and Rs. 578.80 for urban areas (per capita per month). Further, the number of people below this line for 2004-05 is estimated as 41.8 per cent in rural areas and 25.7 per cent in urban areas. These new estimates represent a significant upward revision of poverty in the rural areas, and a small downward revision of poverty in the urban areas. As per the new method, the total number of poor people in India has risen from about 403 million in 1993-94 to about 407 million in 2004-05. In per capita daily terms one out of 4 in urban areas earn less than 19Rs per day while about 2 out of 5 in rural areas earn less than 15 Rs per day.
With so many poor and hungry people around and as the food prices go up and up, 2010 may remain another Hungry New Year to a large number [one Billion]of our fellow human beings.