One of the things that strikes a visitor to India is the stark contrast between rich and poor. Vast opulent office buildings and housing complexes are side by side with slums and shanty dwellings. Poverty is everywhere and the stench fills the air. India may have a space program and Bangalore may be marketed as the Silicon Valley of India (without the infrastructure!) but I sat and watched an old lady beg at the side of a road whilst I waited for Rez.
As soon as I spotted her sat amidst the rubbish I got out of the car and handed her some money. She was grateful and thanked me (a rarity amongst beggars here). I got back in the car and whilst I waited I watched. I watched the rich young Bangalorians walk by ignoring her pleas. Gucci handbags, western clothes and an attitude of entitlement flounced passed her. The first person to stop was a young man on his own. He patiently waited for her to see him and handed her some cash. A couple nearby spotted him and as if compelled by guilt they then reached into their pockets and handed her some change. I watched for about 30 mins as groups walked by and yet others stopped and acknowledge her and gave her cash. One young man also bent down and touched her feet (she was shoeless) – a sign of respect for the elderly.
The thing is this is a common sight all over Bangalore. There are some desperately poor people begging at the side of the road, selling anything they can and knocking on car windows at junctions. We keep a supply of coins in the car just for such occasions – despite locals advising us not to give to beggars, we do.
Hunger remains the No.1 cause of death in the world. There are 820 million chronically hungry people in the world, 1/3rd of of whom live in India.
836 million Indians survive on less than 20 INR (20p) a day. Over 200m Indians will sleep hungry every night. India has 212 million undernourished people – a figure which hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years.
Over 7,000 Indians die of hunger every day. Just read that again. 7,000 every single day because of hunger. And India has a Space program. Read that and weep. Over 2.5m Indians die of hunger every year.
Almost 50 percent of Indian children are underweight and more than 70 percent of the women and children have serious nutritional deficiencies such as anemia. During 2006 – 2007, malnutrition contributed to seven million Indian children dying, nearly two million before the age of one. 30% of newborns have a low birth weight, 56% of married women are anaemic and 79% of children age 6-35 months are anaemic.
What is being done about it?
Eradicating hunger was one of the key Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. The target is to end hunger by 2030 and ensure food access to all parts of the population. Organisations like UNICEF are helping countries by supplying them with essential micronutrients and Feeding India (a not for profit youth organisation based in Dehli) are channelling excess food from individuals, corporates, weddings and restaurants to the ones in need. Food wastage can be converted into food security for others.
The Government of India has a current 5 year plan (2013-17) which includes the National Food Security Act 2013 which empowers more than 800m to legally claim their right to highly subsidised staple foods. The Targeted Public Distribution System (‘TPDS’) serves around 65m of the poorest families with monthly supplies of wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene oil. There is also the Mid-Day-Meal (‘MDM’) school feeding programme to boost nutrition of children. (Source: World Food Programme)
What would work?
The obvious answer to this is an efficient taxation system and the redistribution of wealth. The stark contrast between rich and poor is extraordinary. But why does the sticking plaster of a food security act stop at such basics? Surely poor people are also entitled to fruit, vegetables, milk or anything else to sustain a healthy diet? But of course there is the cost – the debt ridden Government here does not have the funds for the astronomical bill that is mounting for the food act already. Wealth creation is needed to have economic power, productivity and competitiveness- hence why the current government is enticing foreign investors and companies to set up base here. Businesses bring jobs and money (and tax). It is a long road ahead and it is strewn by the bodies of the poor who starving on the way.