STRONG ECONOMIC GROWTH, HEALTHY SOCIAL SECTOR SPENDING AND STAGNANT HUNGER: A PARADOX
India’s economic boom is on, social sector spending is on, relentless battle against poverty and hunger is on but hunger afflicting millions is also going on. For millions of Indians hunger is routine, malnutrition rife, employment insecure, social security non−existent, health care expensive, and livelihood under threats despite India’s robust economic performance and its growth despite the recent global recession. It is the shame that a country that prides itself on becoming a future economic power in the world also has the appellation of being a "republic of hunger" (Mohan: 2010). This situation shows a shameful paradox of poverty amid plenty. India has more persons suffering endemic or chronic hunger as well as ’hidden hunger, whether measured by calorie intake or anthropometric indicators of malnutrition, than any other country. One−third of the world’s malnourished children are in India (Swaminathan: 2006). Ironically farmers are amongst the millions who go hungry.
Between 1996 and 2012, India’s proportions of undernourished people, underweight children and child mortality have remained the same, despite the country’s healthy economic growth and social sector spending, according to the findings of the Global Hunger Index 2012. India’s latest score in Global Hunger Index ( GHI), as reported by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), has once again returned to the 1996 levels, after showing a minor deterioration between 1996 and 2001. According to IFPRI, India’s GHI score was 30.3 in 1990, which fell to 22.6 in 1996. It rose to 24.2 in 2001 and stood at 22.9 in 2012, almost touching the 1996 levels. India has lagged behind in improving its GHI score, despite strong economic growth. After a small increase between 1998 and 2001. India´s GHI score fell only slightly, and the latest GHI returned to about the 1996 level.
On the other hand, India’s nearest economic rival China has managed to consistently lower its hunger index scores. China’s GHI score of 11.8 in 1990 fell to 8.9 in 1996 and then further to 6.7 in 2001. In 2012, China’s index stood at 5.1, among the lowest in the world. South Asia reduced its GHI score significantly between 1990 and 1996− mainly reducing the share of underweight children−but could not maintain the rapid progress. The report added that although sub−Saharan Africa made less progress in reducing hunger since 1990s, it caught up with South Asia since the turn of the millennium when its 2012 GHI score fell below South Asia. According to the index, much smaller nations such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan and Nepal have performance better than India in reducing hunger (Table 1)
The lack of essential vitamins and minerals such as iodine, vitamin A, iron, folic acid and zinc is affecting more than a third of India’s people. It means that millions of people in India suffer from a subtle and insidious ’hidden hunger’. It is not the kind of hunger that one feels in the belly but the kind that strikes at the core of one’s health and vitality. It can cause blindness and brain damage. It can induce stillbirths and abortions. It makes people fatigue and lethargic. It can make killers of ordinary
childhood diseases such as diarrhea, malaria and measles. It contributes to high rates of maternal and child deaths. It can render investment in education less effective as children are unable to concentrate on their studies. Hidden hunger silently, invisibly traps people of entire countries in a cycle of poor health, poor educability, poor productivity and consequent poverty, often without the victims ever knowing the cause.
In India, percentage of prevalence of iron deficiency anaemia in children under 5 years is 75 and the same in women at the age of 15−49 is 51. From severe anaemia 22,000 maternal deaths occur annually. Iodine deficiency and vitamin deficiency are also very high in children (Table 2).
Esearch analysis reveals that in between 2003−04 and 2010−11, budgetary spending on social infrastructure heads (such as health and education) grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.7 per cent, ahead of CAGR of nominal GDP at 15.3 per cent. In the same period spends in all four sub−sectors within social infrastructure− health, education, family welfare and scientific services− have grown faster than nominal GDP. The share of budgetary spending on social infrastructure in GDP increased from 4.1 per cent to 5.0 per cent over this period. Expenditure on social infrastructure picked up sharply after 2008−09 and overall spending in this segment grew at 24.5 per cent per year for the next three years.
The Central Government expenditure on social services and rural development (Plan and non−Plan) which contributes to human development has gone up consistently over the years. It has increased from 13.75 per cent in 2005−06 to 19.27 per cent in 2010−11 (Table 5).
States’ expenditure on social services rose substantially since 2008−09, though it was not across the board, said RBI. While education has seen increased focus in recent years, expenditure on water supply, sanitation, public health and natural calamities was relatively low (Table 6).
Data available show that spending on social sector has been increasing over periods but hunger and ’hide hunger’ are persisting and almost stagnant.
GHI scores for different years are not comparable, because the quality of data keeps improving. But data for three reference years− 1990, 1996 and 2001− have been made comparable. India’s progress since 1990 in overall undernourishment has been minimal, though it has improved nourishment of children under five (by 36 per cent) and mortality of children under five (by a substantial 82 per cent). The explanation is simple: overall undernourishment is a legacy of the past; what happens during the first few years of your life determines your health status throughout your life. The focus should, thus squarely be on ensuring effective access of India’s youngest citizens to nourishment and health facilities. Comparisons with the rest of South Asia are also instructive. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have shown a steady decline in hunger since 1990, but India’s progress has been uneven. There was a sharp drop between 1990 and 1996, but a setback in 2001− from which India has returned to about the 1996 level in 2012. Stronger economic growth than its neighbours has not shown up in India’s social sector performance. Sri Lanka’s human development record is well− known; that of Bangladesh is worth noting. It has witnessed broad−based social development, helped by a vibrant NGO sector and public transfers to reduce child malnutrition among the poorest. It has also reduced the gender gap in education through public intervention and overtaken India on a range of social indicators− including the level and rate of reduction in infant mortality. It also regularly monitors child nutritional status, whereas India is behind time in underweight children statistics.
In September 2010, FAO released its latest report on hunger, finding that 925 million people are undernourished−98 million fewer than in 2009. While releasing the ’Hungama’ report (2012), the Prime Minister was shocked to find 42 per cent of children malnourished. The data reveal an unacceptable prevalence of malnutrition in our children: 42.5 per cent of our children under the age of five years are underweight (low weight for age) 48 per cent of our children are stunted (low height for age) 19.8 per cent of our children are wasted (low weight for height) In poorer states the situation is even worse with over 50 per cent of children underweight.
Intriguingly, the fast−growing economy of India, with a score of 23.3, figures among the countries with an alarming situation of hunger. The more worrisome fact, revealed upon comparison with last year’s situation, is that India actually marginally slipped in its ranking from 94 among 118 nations in 2007 to 98 among 120 nations in 2008. The Indian case emphatically underscores the non−inclusive nature of the recent phase of high economic growth in the country, which has had little positive impact for her vast majority of poor population.
At 7 per cent annual GDP growth, the country’s economy will climb from $4.46 trillion, by purchasing power parity (PPP), in 2011−12 to $6.30 trillion in 2016−17. Per−capita income (PPP) will rise during the same period from $3,700 to $5,100. India will, thus, still be a low− income country in 2017. The effect on poverty reduction will be relatively small. Poverty levels are currently falling by around 0.9 per cent a year, according to trends in the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO). At an annual GDP growth rate of 7 per cent, poverty levels will dip by an estimated 4.5 per cent over the next five years, in line with the trend over the last decade (Merchant: 2012). Taking 4.5 per cent of the country’s population out of the technical definition of poverty− however, contentious the new NSSO figures may be− means helping 50 million Indians climb into a better future over the next five years. That will still, leave, according to NSSO estimates, around 60 per cent, or 740 million, Indians mired in poverty in 2017, 70 years after Independence, consuming less than Rs.66 a day in cities and Rs. 35 daily in villages (Ibid).
No doubt, child nutrition has certainly improved in India since 1980, but the rate of improvement is much less than in Latin America and Asian countries such as China, the Philippines and Sri Lanka (Table 8).
Above discussion reveals that hunger and ’hide hunger’ with poverty ratio is almost stagnant
despite robust growth performance and healthy social sector spending. It is clear that the vibrant economy, "the shining India", is restricted to the upper classes, while the majority in Bharat ekes out a meagre existence on the margins and facing hunger and ’hide hunger’. India’s extremely poor score in successive years in the global hunger index (GHI) should remind policy makers of the unfinished agenda of liberalization.
India should not only focus on economic growth but must have an explicit and concrete goal of "a hunger−free India. The solution for hunger lies in proper distribution of food grain, and not in bringing technology. To address the problem of malnutrition, the issues such as quality of drinking water, health of the person, and environmental hygiene also need to be addressed.
In a country where hundreds of millions are malnourished and the majority of people are food insecure, a universal system of distribution is the one that will ensure inclusion of all the needy.
Merchant, Minhaz (2012): "The Cost of Misgovernance", The Business Standard, May 5. Mohan, N Chandra (2010): "The Paradox of Hunger amidst Potential Plenty", The Business Standard, April 18 Swaminathan, Madhura (2006): "Eleventh Plan Ignores Food and Nutrition Insecurity", The Hindu, September 1.