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Number of hungry in S Asia rises to 405m

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NEW DELHI: More than 100 million people have joined the ranks of the chronically hungry in South Asia in the fallout from the global financial crisis, bringing the figure to a 40-year high, a UN official said on Tuesday. The region’s poor, who have borne the brunt of the economic trouble, desperately need governments to spend more money on food, health care and education to alleviate the crisis, said Daniel Toole, a regional director

for the UN Children’s Fund, or UNICEF.

At least 405 million people in South Asia suffered from chronic hunger in 2007-2008, up from 300 million in 20004-2006, according to a UNICEF report on Tuesday.

“Without urgent, inclusive government response, the poor of South Asia, nearly 20 per cent of the world’s population, will sink further into poverty and malnutrition with long-term negative consequences for growth and development in the region and globally,” the report said.

The report focused on the economic crisis’s impact on women and children in eight South Asian nations —Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Nearly 33 per cent of South Asia’s 1.8 billion people eat less than the minimum recommended daily requirements. Three-quarters live in households earning less than $2 a day, the report said.

The poor spend more than half of their income on food, which has become more expensive and made life even more difficult for them, it said. Nearly half of the region’s children are malnourished.

Toole called on India and Pakistan, longtime rivals in the region, to urgently reduce their defence spending and increase their social investments.

The two nations have long spent relatively little on education and health while spending billions on their militaries, which have fought three wars against each another. Defence accounted for 18 per cent of government spending in Pakistan and 14 per cent in India between 1997 and 2006, UNICEF said.

Education accounted for less than 4 per cent and health care received 2 per cent in the same period, the agency said.

The agency called on India and Pakistan to emulate China, which spent 8-10 per cent of government money on education and health over the past three decades, allowing rural and impoverished communities access to hospitals and schools, Toole said.

Nearly half of the region’s children under five are malnourished, the worst level in the world including Sub-Saharan Africa.

Countries such as India did not make use of the good years to tackle poverty and hunger, UNICEF said.

“We are in the midst of a recession,” a UNICEF official said.

“When you had growth rates of eight, nine and in some cases 15, 16 per cent, we made no progress on malnutrition, on hunger, on including women and children in the society. How are we going to do it now?”


Courtesy: The News



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