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For a blueprint to fight poverty and hunger

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We need a National Authority on Hunger Elimination, with adequate funds and exclusive powers, administrative and financial

Of the eight Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations, the first relates to eradicating poverty and extreme hunger, halving hunger by 2015. But most of the countries, including India, have not achieved tangible results on this front. With 2015 around the corner, the new government has a major task of addressing the issues of poverty and hunger. It should now halve hunger at least by 2017-2018.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised that his new government’s top priority is to address the problems of the poor, he would have had in his mind the twin problems of hunger and health. Despite India’s remarkable progress marked by high economic growth, impressive food production levels, technological advancement and enviable human resources, it is confronted by the problem of its 350 million hungry people. In the Global Hunger Index (GHI) it has the sixty-third position among 78 countries. India could reduce hunger only marginally (by less than 25 per cent) over a period of 18 years (1990-91 to 2007-08). Inadequate attention has been given to hunger-related issues.

As Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr. Modi’s leadership was evident in the fields of agriculture and food production. When the country’s average agriculture growth was 3.5 to 4 per cent, Gujarat recorded over 10 per cent growth. Mr. Modi had realised that soil health is important for crop health and this in turn for human health, a healthy and positive outlook.

This paved the way for the issue of Soil Health Cards to farmers in Gujarat for the first time in the country almost a decade ago, which had a significant effect on agricultural growth. The fact that several other States emulated Gujarat on the Soil Health Card scheme bears testimony to Mr. Modi’s practical approach.

Compared to States such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand, there was less hunger and child malnutrition in Gujarat. So Mr. Modi’s vision was clear: unless hunger and health, which are closely related to poverty, are tackled with effective strategies, it is not possible to achieve development.

Thus, the road map for overall development has been set, with experience gained from a State to be translated at the national level. The lessons learned could transform India from a nation of poverty and hunger to one that is healthy and vibrant, with sustainable growth and development.

India cannot afford to ignore the problem anymore. The long-term implications of the currently underweight children below five years will be on the future generation. Physical and mental health is essential to take up the responsibilities of nation-building. To sustain developmental activities during the coming decades, all children born, say from 2009-2010 onwards, need to be given utmost care in a holistic manner, in terms of health, education, environment, character-building and skill development in order to ensure leadership qualities.

Particular attention should be paid to States such as Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, besides slum pockets in cities and tribal and rural belts in States, to rescue millions of underweight children. An effective health and nutrition programme for children (and mothers), from infants to juveniles to youth, is needed. A weak youth force will impede progress.

The need

It is high time that Mr. Modi personally examined the situation and initiated action to establish a National Authority on Hunger Elimination. It should have adequate funds and exclusive powers, administrative and financial, and enhanced human resources with the goal of making India hunger-free by 2025.

NAHE must function as a high-power coordinating unit with the Ministries concerned — food and agriculture, health, education, rural development, environment and finance. As the ongoing poverty alleviation programmes have not yielded the desired results in terms of minimising hunger among the poorest of the poor, NAHE might be expected to achieve the goal better and in a shorter time-frame. It must be an empowered authority to coordinate with all the States.

India should strive hard to get its name erased from the list of Global Hunger Index with exemplary and time-bound programmes. For this, an extraordinary level of political will is called for. On their part, research organisations and universities should initiate mandated projects on all hunger-related issues in a holistic way, with rural-based programmes. The scientific community cannot remain aloof from the reality of millions going to be bed each day without food. Unless they play a proactive role it may be difficult to combat hunger in the country.

Hopefully, the Prime Minister will thus be able to put poor Indians on his agenda.

(The author is president of the Society for Hunger Elimination, Tirupati.) rajvel44@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 9:58:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/for-a-blueprint-to-fight-poverty-and-hunger/article6229374.ece

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