India has the money to fix malnutrition, illiteracy but corruption and mismanagement hold it back

India will be a US$2 trillion economy by the end of 2013

Despite having a fast-growing economy, 40% of India’s children are malnourished.

Almost 160 million are in the 0 to 6 year old age range. 64 million of them would be malnourished. 170 million children in the whole world are malnourished.

The food is there: world agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase.

A BBC News video explains how there have been consistent food surpluses in India and there are warehouses full of grain capable of providing food for millions. However there is corruption and mismanagement in the existing internal food aid programs.

Malnutrition will also stunt the growth of the children who do survive. This will cause physical development and brain development problems. This will impact India’s future growth potential.

Illiteracy and Childcare education is also an issue

Deep in the so-called “hunger belt” of central India, Deshraj’s village, Markheda, has a government-subsidised food shop funded by the Public Distribution System (PDS).

It entitles every family living below the official poverty line to 35kg of grain or rice a month.

His extreme case is known too: he has been identified as one of 19 “dangerously malnourished” children in the village, making him eligible for emergency help from the local “nutrition rehabilitation centre” in the nearby town of Shivpuri.

But here it gets even more complicated.

“His family won’t agree to send him,” complains one of the health workers who suddenly arrive in the village while the BBC is there.

It is true that Deshraj’s mother does not appear overly concerned about his condition. Like most people here, she’s illiterate and doesn’t seem to understand many of the questions she is asked before walking away.

“Sometimes the mothers don’t know how best to look after their children,” says the health worker

Wikipedia describes malnutrition in India

25% of all hungry people worldwide live in India. Since 1990 there has been some improvements for children but the proportion of hungry in the population has increased. In India 44% of children under the age of 5 are underweight. 72% of infants and 52% of married women have anemia. Research has conclusively shown that malnutrition during pregnancy causes the child to have increased risk of future diseases, physical retardation, and reduced cognitive abilities.

143 backgrounder report from the World Health Organization that reviews nutrition policies (2010)

China and Brazil have had successes reducing poverty and hunger.

Here is a 25 page document that reviews successes against hunger in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Ghana.

Gradual, pragmatic – and not ideological – reforms, together with learning from experimentation, are more likely to succeed

China, as well as Vietnam, rejected the ‘big bang’ approach to economic reforms and opted instead for a more gradual approach to institutional change. As no ed in the sections above, China adopted a ‘learning by doing’ approach that involved considerable experimentation at local level; according to the FAO, ‘gradualism was successful as a reform strategy’ in Vietnam with the reform process ‘cautiously implemented’. Justin Yifu Lin wrote in 2007 that ‘pragmatism is the most important policy guidance for economic transition… A gradual, piecemeal approach to reform and transition – designed diagnostically and pragmatically according to reality – could enable the country to achieve stability and dynamic growth simultaneously and allow the country to complete its transition to a market economy’.

Social protection policies can be critical

Social protection policies, as we have seen in Bangladesh, Vietnam, and China – and also more notably in Brazil – have also played important roles in reaching the hungry, and often in consolidating earlier gains made in agricultural policy. If this is an obvious point, it is worth recalling that many governments spend little or nothing on social protection; indeed, only around 20 per cent of the world’s population currently has access to formal social protection.

Poverty reduction in China and India: Policy implications of recent trends (28 page UN working paper)

India will need to stimulate its economy now that it is hitting slower GDP growth (about 5-6% per year). They desperately need basic infrastructure and programs to address basic needs. They should run those infrastructure and basic program

Since the development project in India is still far from complete, and indeed is much less advanced than in China, it is crucial for the Indian government to use this opportunity to use expansionary fiscal policy and redirect both public and private investments towards the creation of infrastructure and the provision of basic needs. It is only with such a determined effort that any future growth will actually deliver poverty reduction.

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