Even months after strict lockdown measures were relaxed, India’s hunger crisis is ongoing.
The Right to Food Campaign and other organisations launched “Hunger Watch”, surveying eleven states and interviewing 3,994 people. Marginalised groups are especially hard-hit by the hunger crisis, the survey found. As compared to the period before India entered a national lockdown, approximately 77 percent of families belonging to particularly vulnerable tribal groups families, 76 percent of Dalits, and 54 percent of the adivasis said they ate less food in the September-October period.
The survey found that 56 percent of those surveyed never skipped a meal in the pre-lockdown period. Now, 27 percent of respondents do not eat before they go to bed, translating to one in twenty of the families covered by the survey. Meanwhile, nutritional value declined sharply: 71 percent said the nutritional value of their food had declined and forty percent said it had severely worsened.
India’s hunger crisis predates the pandemic, but has undoubtedly been exacerbated by it. The imposition of a national lockdown in the early stages of the outbreak led to an exodus of migrant labourers from the cities to their villages. Many of them, robbed of work, feared starvation more than COVID-19.
Earlier this year, the United Nations released a report estimated that some 690 million people – 8.9 percent of the global population – live lives blighted by hunger. This, the report said, is “up by ten million people in one year and by nearly sixty million in five years. The number of people affected by severe food insecurity, which is another measure that approximates hunger, shows a similar upward trend. In 2019, close to 750 million – or nearly one in ten people in the world – were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity.”
Furthermore, “a preliminary assessment suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020 depending on the economic growth scenario.”
Combating India’s hunger crisis will require building on existing efforts and implementing new ones. Even before COVID-19, 14.5 percent of India’s population were undernourished (as of the 2016-18 period). As with many social issues, COVID-19 has shone on a light on systems that were already broken and crises that were already ruining lives – and ought to serve as a call to action to address them.