Nature of Food Problem in India Beforeand After Independence

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A RECENT publication, Food Insecurity Atlas of Urban India, brought out by the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) indicates that more than 38 per cent of children under the age of three in India's cities and towns are underweight and more than 35 per cent of children in urban areas are stunted (shorter than they should be for their age). The report states that the poor in India's burgeoning urban areas do not get the requisite amount of calories or nutrients specified by accepted Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) norms and also suggests that absorption and assimilation of food by the urban poor is further impaired by non-food factors such as inadequate sanitation facilities, insufficient housing and woeful access to clean drinking water. More than 21 per cent of India's urban population live in slums, 23 per cent of urban households do not have access to toilet facilities and nearly 8 per cent of urban households are unable to find safe drinking water. This publication is the second in a three-part series. The Food Insecurity Atlas of Rural India was released in 2001 and the Sustainability of Food Security Atlas of India is forthcoming. The Food Insecurity Atlas of Urban India provides comprehensive analysis on the extent of food insecurity in India'scities and towns and uses a series of maps to identify food insecurity "hotspots" in the country. The urban Atlas uses existing data to analyse food security problems andthe main data sources are the Census of India and National Sample Surveys (NSS). Data have also been taken from National Family Health Surveys, Pollution Control Boards, the Health Information of India compiled by the Ministry of Health, and the Environmental Compendium. The study excludes the north-eastern States of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Sikkim since NSS statistics for these areas are found to be unreliable. Providing food security to the urban population has been made more vital by the fact that urbanisation has been a dominating trend throughout the world in the last half century. According to the 1961 Census of India, 17.97 per cent of the country's population lived in urban areas. In 2001, thatfigure was 27.78 per cent, amounting to 285 million people. The United Nations estimates that India's urban population will reach 600 million by the year 2025. Urbanisation has already eaten up vast quantities of productive land and has placed enormous pressure on the available infrastructure. The past decade of liberalisation has brought about vast changes in the country, the effects of which have been more pronounced in urban areas. Yet, the spectre of urban poverty haunts India's crowded cities, and providing food security to the urban population has and will continue to be a tremendous challenge. Superficial observation may suggest that the concern about urban food security is misplaced. After all, it is images of starvation and malnutrition from rural India that most often flash across our television screens. However, the Food Insecurity Atlas of Urban India maintains that " a closer look makes one wonder whether urban lower income groups are really better off than their rural counterparts." The Atlas cites NSS data to indicate that average urban calorie intake is lower than average rural calorie intake. Another disturbing fact pointed out by NSS statistics is that average calorie intake has declined marginally in urban and rural India in the last three decades. That the analysis of food security requires a more broad-based approach than the mere focus on calorie intake is a view prescribed by the Food Insecurity Atlas. As the Atlas suggests, the problem of urban hunger is almost paradoxical. On the surface, life for all sections in urban India appears to be easier than in rural India. Wages and salaries are higher in urban areas; infrastructure is superior in cities and towns when compared with villages;...
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