Report finds 42% of Indian children don't get enough food
Roughly 42 percent of all Indian children under age 5 suffer from malnutrition, a sobering reminder of the persistence of poverty and hunger in the world’s largest democracy, according to a major report released on Tuesday.
“The problem of malnutrition is a matter of national shame,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said as the study was released. “Despite impressive growth in our G.D.P., the level of undernutrition in the country is unacceptably high.”
The new findings came from a survey of 73,000 households in nine Indian states conducted by the Naandi Foundation, an independent charitable group. They pointed up India’s nagging difficulties in reducing poverty and hunger among its 1.2 billion people, despite robust economic growth over the last decade. Known as the Hungama survey, the report comes at a time when Indian lawmakers are in heated debate over the costs and social benefits of broadly expanding the country’s subsidized food program.
Malnutrition levels are especially high in India’s poorest and most heavily populated states. The extensive food subsidy program that India already operates allocates grain and kerosene to the poor. Yet the distribution system is rife with corruption and inefficiency, and some analysts estimate that 40 percent of the subsidized food never reaches the intended recipients.
Parliament is considering legislation, known as the Food Security Bill, that would expand the number of people eligible for subsidized food and establish a constitutional right to food. Advocates say the program is essential for improving the country’s social safety net, but critics warn of exorbitant costs and say the effectiveness would be uncertain because of the government’s inadequate delivery system.
Yet there is broad agreement that India must find better ways to parlay its impressive economic growth into faster progress on feeding its people.