• Raadhika Gupta

It’s Time To Walk The Talk

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

COVID-19 has exposed the huge gaps in our nutrition security. We need to fix them before it is too late.

The global COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has not only crippled our economy, it has severely escalated hunger and poverty in every nook and corner, particularly among the poor and weaker sections of our society, with many dying of acute hunger and malnourishment.

Apart from being a major eye-opener on several issues like sanitation and hygiene, it also comes as a wake-up call about the importance a proper policy on nutrition.

The Indispensability of Ensuring Food Security

The lockdown led to a heightened focus on ensuring food access to the vulnerable by both public and private players. The central government announced several interventions like cash transfers, distribution of free gas cylinders and additional food under the Public Distribution System (PDS). Several states introduced measures like doorstep delivery of rations, expanded PDS to non-ration card holders, provision of affordable as well as free cooked meals and delivering mid-day meals at homes. But despite all these steps, hunger does not seem to be a priority in our debates, demands and promises during the ‘normal’ times.

Of course, there are various programs to address food security, like the Public Distribution System (PDS), mid-day meal (MDM) program for government schoolchildren, and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) program, which focuses on providing meals or ration to young children, pregnant and lactating women through anganwadis. Yet according to a 2019 Food and Agriculture Organization report, more than 19 crore people in India are undernourished, which amounts to almost a quarter of the world’s undernourished population.

As per The Global Hunger Index 2019, which ranks nations based on undernourishment, child wasting, stunting and mortality, India is ranked lower than most sub-Saharan African regions, and all of Asia except Afghanistan. Many children and adults have died of starvation. This shows that our efforts have not been enough.. Many families, especially migrant workers, are unable to benefit from the PDS scheme because their ration cards belong to their home states. Many children cannot access anganwadis because they live far away.

The zeal to ensure everyone has access to adequate food must not end with this pandemic. Perhaps some of these ‘emergency’ measures may be required even under normal circumstances given that when food security is still an issue for crores of people.