IN a fitting recognition of the need to contain the scourge of global hunger and the commendable efforts of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) towards fighting it, the Nobel Committee has bestowed this year’s peace prize on the WFP. It puts the spotlight on the food crisis that has been exacerbated by the raging pandemic. Even as developing nations — aided by humanitarian organisations such as the WFP at the forefront — have been working towards ensuring that nobody sleeps on an empty stomach, the march forward has been slow. The efforts suffered a setback in the wake of Covid-19 and its brutal impact on economy. The bleak figures projected by the WFP point to a tragic scenario. It fears that the number of starving people has shot up nearly two-fold to 270 million from 135 million, riding on the pandemic gloom manifested by sickness, rising unemployment and spiralling prices. Add conflicts and catastrophes, and it’s a sure recipe for lives torn apart by poverty and hunger.
In India, the grim picture unfolded during the lockdown, marked by the march of millions of migrant labourers trudging back home, bringing into sharp focus their misery as they bore the brunt of businesses getting shut down. Caught on the wrong foot, the government scrambled to provide food and financial stimulus for their sustenance. The disruption again raised the issue of criminal wastage and rotting of foodgrains even as our food procurement, storage and public distribution systems failed to usher in reforms to plug the gap between plentiful farm produce and unfed mouths. Closely related is the issue of women and children being disproportionately deprived of nourishment. The Global Hunger Index-2019 ranked India at a lowly 102 out of the 117 countries mapped.
While the WFP assisted 97 million people in 88 countries last year, the growing food insecurity calls for a world order enabling policies that make nations self-sustainable. Funded largely by the rich nations, the world bodies and agencies are, at present, tilted towards furthering their interests. With millions more on the brink of starvation, ensuring meals to all has become more challenging.
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