Hunger Issues In South Asia

South Asia remains one of the largest areas in the world that suffers from hunger. It results not from a scarcity of food, but from the inability of buying power on part of the people there, indicating a very unequal distribution of resources, lack of meaningful employment and entrepreneurship. Lack of political will prevents improvement, while regional conflicts aggravate the problem.
Hunger Issues in South Asia
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMidday_Meal_Scheme_children_at_primary_school.jpg)

South Asia or the erstwhile subcontinent called India was, till a couple of centuries ago, the golden goose that everyone aimed to capture. Yet, today it is a region containing absolute poverty and hunger at a magnitude matched only by the sub-Saharan African world. This ironical transformation and its roots need to be understood and removed as soon as possible.

 

The Irony of South Asia

South Asia is a region full of ironies. It is one of the regions with the maximum arable land in the world, producing a large amount of food grains. On the other hand it is also the

region where hunger rules. It is an irony, which has its roots in a combination of predominant agrarian economy and the burgeoning population that the age old agrarian economy is not able to feed any more.

The Demographic Catastrophes since 1920s

1920 is considered the year of the great divide. Before this, the population of the region was growing at a very slow pace, and thus the land available was enough to take care of the people, even though the production levels were low, and there was little use of technology. The agricultural productions produced enough surpluses to support the local craftsmen, and services, and in a society where ambitions were few, the communities survived more on harmony and interpersonal and family bonds, rather than the modern comfort that they need today.

During the last century the population of South Asia grew between three to four times, as a result of the advances in immunization and medical care which brought the death rates drastically down while traditional practices and conventions prevented the prevalence of contraception. In the highly family centric society, where arranged marriages are a norm even now, and where children are considered gifts of god, there has been a resistance to contraceptive means even though the countries adopted family planning programs as early as 1950s.

The Unequal Growth Phenomenon

The growth of population has not been even. Among the educated well off families, the number of children are far less than poorer uneducated unskilled labor class. The growth of population along with very poor level of literacy and education, and poor industrialization status meant that while the work force and supply of unskilled labor grew, the corresponding increase in employment for them did not take place. As a result, for every job available, many contenders were there. This demand supply mismatch ensured that the wages fell to the subsistence level, and the workers were never paid enough. Those without a job, were even worse, and had to do whatever work came there way, at whatever remuneration.

The result was prevalence of hunger!

Women & Children Bear the Maximum Burden

Large sections of societies throughout the subcontinent live with earnings that are not enough to provide adequate meals

to the whole family. As the adult male is generally the main productive member, and must carry on, for the sake of the family, the children and the womenfolk suffer even more. This hunger prevails in both rural as well as urban areas. Only difference being that in urban areas, the lack of space and amenities means that the life is even more torturous, even though employment opportunities are more.

Where all the governments have failed, is in their inability to convert this workforce from a liability into an asset, by failing to provide adequate education, and restricting entrepreneurship. Doing business of any kind has always been a nightmare in all countries of the region, and a significant part of this tradition goes back to the colonial legacy, where the British Government put restrictions, many in an implied form, to prevent local industries, and protect their exports to the colonial market. Even after independence, the rulers - politicians and bureaucrats, not only continued with the stranglehold of the government on business, but actually converted it into a major rent seeking affair. The result was poor industrialization that could not create sufficient employment opportunities for the burgeoning workforce, and as a result, poverty and hunger continued to rule.

Shortage of Paying Capacity, Not of Food

Here it is important to understand, that the hunger in South Asia is the result of inadequate paying capacity of the masses, and not shortage of food grains. That is why the solution of the problem also lies in creating earning opportunities, and removing the demand supply mismatch of labor.

Since 1990s, Indian reforms have shown the way of how to go about it. However, the road is tough and there is still a long way to go before the benefits actually percolate down to the real sufferers. In the meanwhile there are other problems that keep raising their heads. Disparity in wealth is becoming an issue everywhere, and will need to be resolved if the peace required for orderly economic development is to be maintained. The age-old rivalry of Pakistan and India will also have to make way for a war against hunger, and the fundamentalism and violence that keep rising now and then, with the slogans spread from the Middle East, will have to be somehow suppressed by all the respective governments.

Only then, there will be any hope for a hunger free South Asia!
 



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