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Last Updated: Friday, 13 October 2006, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
'Hunger critical' in South Asia
By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Indian child
South Asia has 'the highest level of child malnutrition'
A report released by a US-based group says South Asia continues to face "critical" levels of hunger.

The region has the highest levels of child malnutrition in the world, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.

The report says the current hot spots of hunger and under-nutrition are in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

In May, a Unicef report said half of the world's under-nourished children live in South Asia.

The Washington-based institute released the Global Hunger Index ahead of World Food Day on 16 October.

'Area of great concern'

According to its findings, the 10 countries with the highest levels of hunger are all in Sub-Saharan Africa.

However it says that: "South Asia has higher levels of child under-nutrition than Sub-Saharan Africa, but Sub-Saharan Africa has higher rates of child mortality."

On the positive side it says, "In most of Asia where the Green Revolution boosted food supplies, hunger and under-nutrition have continued to decrease since 1981."

Doctor Gupta (right) on his rounds
Doctors blame inadequate feeding and caring practices

But while there have been dramatic improvements in South Asia, the report says the region remains "an area of great concern".

The institute studied 119 countries for its research and the index ranked countries on a 100-point scale, with zero being the best score (no hunger) and 100 being the worst.

In general, the study says, values greater than 10 indicate a serious problem, greater than 20 are alarming and exceeding 30 are extremely alarming.

Low status of women

India and most other South Asian countries score in the region of 20 plus.

The three indicators for ranking were child malnutrition, child mortality and estimates of the proportion of people who were calorie deficient.

"In India and Bangladesh, high rates of child malnutrition, as opposed to the other two indicators, are the main reason for the high Global Hunger Index value," says the report.

It says "the low status of women in South Asian countries and their lack of nutritional knowledge are important determinants of high prevalence of underweight children in the region".

The report also blames "inadequate feeding and caring practices for young children" for the grim situation in South Asian countries.

It says it is important that "in the interests of improving child nutrition, women's status should be raised". This need is very urgent in South Asia, including India, it adds.

A Unicef report in May said the world was failing its children by not ensuring that they had enough to eat.

It said the number of children under five who were underweight had remained virtually unchanged since 1990, despite a target to reduce the number affected.

The report said India contributed to about 5.6 million child deaths per year, more than half the world's total.

One of the UN's Millennium Development Goals is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015, which would mean halving the proportion of children who are underweight for their age.

But Unicef warned that the world was not on track to meet that goal.

In pictures: Feeding the world
01 May 06 |  In Pictures

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