World Poverty Day 2019: The fight against hunger continues

On World Poverty Day today, we look at hunger: one of the most devastating and long-lasting effects of poverty on the Indian population.

Myupchar October 17, 2019 12:16:55 IST
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World Poverty Day 2019: The fight against hunger continues
  • According to Planning Commission data from 2011-12, 269 million people live below the poverty - in rural as well as urban centres across the country

  • One-third of the worldÃ�¢ï¿½ï¿½s wasted children live in India, according to UNICEF data

  • 20% of children under five years of age in India suffer from wasting due to undernutrition

India ranked 102 out of 117 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2019 released, ironically on the same day that Indian-origin economist Abhijit Banerjee along with Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer won a Nobel Prize for their work on understanding poverty.

Poverty, of course, is one of the key reasons for hunger in the country. According to Planning Commission data from 2011-12, 269 million people live below the poverty - in rural as well as urban centres across the country.

World Poverty Day 2019 The fight against hunger continues

Representational image. Image source: Getty Images.

On World Poverty Day today, we look at hunger: one of the most devastating and long-lasting effects of poverty on the Indian population.

Global Hunger Index 2019

The hunger index scores countries based on four indicators: child undernutrition - which includes data for childhood wasting and stunted growth, child mortality (under five years) and inadequate food supply and undernourishment.

With a score of 30.3 (anything below 9.9 is great and anything above 50 indicates extreme hunger), India has a serious level of hunger, comparable with Sudan and Ethiopia.

Health tracker

One-third of the world’s wasted children live in India, according to UNICEF data. The reason: undernutrition. Data also show that undernutrition is the cause in more than one-third of child deaths in India.

When a child has low weight for their height, this condition is known as wasting. Usually the result of significant food shortage or disease, it is one of the major reasons for death in children under five in India.

Stunting is when a child is remarkably short for their age. Caused by long-term undernutrition and frequent infections, its effects start to show around the time a child turns two. The effects are largely irreversible and include delayed motor development, impaired cognitive function and poor school performance.

India figures

Undernutrition in India endangers children’s survival, health, growth and development. UNICEF data paint a bleak picture:

  • 20% of children under five years of age in India suffer from wasting due to undernutrition.
  • Every year, around 7.4 million babies are born underweight (under 5 pounds or 2.2 kilos) in India. Of this set, 43% remain underweight even till the age of five.
  • 61 million children in India are stunted due to undernutrition.
  • Around 70% of India's children under the age of five are anaemic.
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are highly prevalent in children under the age of five years.
  • Children who are not optimally breastfed are much more likely to suffer from common fatal childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea, measles, pneumonia and malaria.

Action against undernourishment

The good thing is, India doesn’t have to invent ways to fight hunger. Health experts at global agencies like the World Health Organization and the UNICEF have already devised plans that can take the world to “zero hunger” by 2030: one of the Sustainable Development Goals.

For example, UNICEF’s optimal infant and young child feeding strategy begin from the first hour of birth - the ideal time to start breastfeeding. The plan recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of the child’s life.

The reason: colostrum (the milk produced by the new mom in the first week) provides natural immunisation for newborns, reducing the chances of death in the neonatal period.

Additionally:

  • According to UNICEF, breastfeeding should continue for two years along with age-appropriate foods starting at six months of age.
  • Counselling caregivers — like new moms, dads, and grandparents — on the optimal use of locally available foods can help.
  • Access to quality foods, vitamins and micro-nutrients should be improved for poor families through social protection schemes and safety nets.
  • Vitamin A supplementation should be given twice yearly to reduce the risk of blindness, infection, undernutrition and death associated with vitamin A deficiency among children.
  • Pregnant women should take iodized salt in their food - for preventing foetal brain damage associated with iodine deficiency. Also, add a tiny bit of iodized salt in food for babies over six months to improve brain development and to prevent motor and hearing deficits.
  • Both pregnant woman and breastfeeding moms should take iron and folic acid supplements to reduce maternal anaemia and improve pregnancy and lactation outcomes.
  • Caregivers should wash their hands with soap before food preparation and children before eating, to reduce instances of diarrhoea.
  • Every adolescent girl must be given dietary counselling, weekly iron and folic acid supplementation. 
  • De-worming up to twice yearly is important for children aged 1-12 years.
  • Zinc should be given as a part of Oral Rehydration Therapy for the treatment of diarrhoea.

Deploy the Army

What can we do as private citizens to alleviate undernutrition and hunger as a result of poverty in this country? Turns out, quite a lot.

Initiatives like the “Robinhood army” - a zero-funds volunteer organization that takes surplus food from restaurants and communities and gives it to homeless families, children living in orphanages, patients from public hospitals and old-age homes - give private citizens a chance to contribute in a meaningful way.

The Robinhood Army was started in Delhi on August 2014 and now has expanded to 149 cities in 12 countries. Visit https://robinhoodarmy.com/volunteer-sign-up/ to join the march against hunger.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. For more information, please read our article on Malnutrition.

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