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Hunger Proliferates In A Democracy; India Tops The Chart

By Devinder Sharma

20 September, 2010
Ground Reality

This is a chart that should put every Indian into shame. Not only an Indian, but also those who swear in the name of democracy. How can people's representatives remain immune to the growing scourge of hunger? Shouldn't this provoke you to ask the basic: why should hunger exist in a democracy?

The illustration above [released ahead of the Sept 20-22 Summit of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)] reflects the monumental failure of the global leadership to address the worst tragedy that a democracy can inflict. Amartya Sen had said that famine does not happen in a democracy, but let me add: hunger perpetuates in a democracy.

The hunger map above is also a reflection of the dishonesty shown by the international leadership to fight hunger. Hunger is the biggest scandal, a crime against humanity that goes unpunished. At the 1996 World Food Summit, political leaders had pledged to pull out half the world's hungry (at that time the figure was somewhere around 840 million) by the years 2015. This commitment was applauded by one and all, including the academicians, policy makers, development agencies and charities, and you name it.

This commitment alone demonstrated the political indifference to mankind's worst crime. Considering FAO's own projections of the number of people succumbing to hunger and malnutrition at around 24,000 a day, I had then said that by the year 2015, the 20 years time limit they had decided to work on, 172 million people would die of hunger. And when the world meets for the MDG Summit in a few days from now, almost 15 years since the WFS 1996, close to 128 million people have already died from hunger.

And you call this an urgency?

No one across the world stood up to call the bluff.

Hunger has instead grown. By 2010, the world should have removed at least 300 million people from the hunger list. It has however added another 85 million to raise the tally to 925 million. In my understanding, this too is a gross understatement. The horrendous face of hunger is being kept deliberately hidden by lowering the figures. In India, for instance, the map shows 238 million people living in hunger. This is certainly incorrect. A new government estimate points to 37.2 per cent of the population living in poverty, which means the hunger tally in India is officially at 450 million. Even this is an understatement. The poverty line is kept so stringent in India (at Rs 17 per person per day) that in the same amount you cannot even think of feeding a pet dog. I wonder how can the poor manage two-square meals a day under this classification.

Hunger is also growing in major democracies. In the US, it has broken a 14-year record, and one in every ten Americans lives in hunger. In Europe, 40 million people are hungry, almost equivalent to the population of Spain. Interestingly, most of the countries in the hunger chart are following democratic forms of governance. And yet, the only country which has made a sizable difference to global hunger is China, which as we all know is not a democracy.

Is it so difficult to remove hunger? The answer is No.

While there is no political will to fight hunger, the business of hunger is growing at a phenomenal rate. The economic growth paradigm that the world is increasingly following in principle aims at minimising hunger, poverty and inequality. But in reality acerbates hunger and inequality. Economists have programmed the mindset of generations in such a manner that everyone genuinely believes that the roadmap to remove hunger passes through GDP. The more the GDP the more will be the opportunities for the poor to move out of the poverty trap. Nothing could be further away from this faulty economic thinking. This is the biggest economic folly that a flawed education system has inflicted.

And it is primarily for this reason that after the 2008 economic meltdown, the international leadership pumped in more than $ 20 trillion to bail out the rich and crooked. On the other hand, removing hunger and poverty from the face of the Earth would cost the world only $ 1 trillion at the most, for which the resources are unavailable. But there is all the money in the world to fill the pockets of the rich, hoping that it would one day trickle down to the poor. Privatising the profits, and socialising the costs. Isn't this political and economic dishonesty?

Hungry stomach offers tremendous business opportunities. Rich economies are buttressed by speculation and free trade in food and agriculture. Opening up of the developing economies provides them opportunities to sell unwanted technologies/goods in the name of development. Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector sees the poor as a business opportunity to bail out the companies from sluggish growth. Micro-finance steps in to empty the pockets of the poor, again in the name of development. So much so that even Climate Change provides tremendous scope to milk the poor.

All this is happening in a democratic world.