While India is still struggling to secure food for all and our Hunger Index is high, it is heartening to see India’s urban poor are seeing a faint light of hope in the form of lay people getting together and helping the hungry and the poor get at least one meal through community efforts and food banks. But these efforts are like drops in the ocean which will not make significant change in the situation unless things change at the governance level.
It is strange that a country that believes in feeding the poor as one of the noblest deeds in religious functions, weddings and ceremonies, find its own people dying of hunger and malnutrition at such a large and massive scale.
A large proportion of our women and children are malnourished and causesare manifold. They range from women being the last to eat (or not eating at all), to children having low birth weights when they are born, to lack of knowledge on good feeding practices, to widespread diarrhoea which causes children to wither away, to poor sanitation that causes disease and death.
While some of these can be addressed by NGOs, much of it has to do with traditional norms and practices that we follow across communities which need greater efforts to change. There is also the very real problem of low incomes, mostly in rural India. We have over 300 million poor people that are unable to adequately feed themselves and their families.
Education is yet another area where India needs to improve as that is the only means of beating poverty. Most advanced countries take it as the State’s responsibility to educate their children. Right to Education is a basic right of every child just as the Right to Food is. Every citizen should have access to basic cereals and pulses, access to knowledge around nutrition, and healthcare and its long term effect on the entire family.
Undoubtedly, State governments have to adopt a comprehensive and coordinated multi-sectoral approach which is formulated by taking into account the varied nature of local-level challenges and finding a determined breakthrough in devising solutions. They have to demonstrate better governance and an honest effort to bring changes. At the same time, civil society must respond in a responsible manner. In particular, attention needs to be paid on building neighbourhood health and nutrition profiles and carrying out interventions based on identified needs.