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Hunger and malnutrition still stalk millions in South Asia

Lack of funds means people are still starving but Bangladesh is making big strides forward

Hunger and malnutrition still stalk millions in South Asia

A poor farmer takes his cows home to his village in the Thakurgaon district of northern Bangladesh. The Global Hunger Index 2019 shows millions of people in South Asia still suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews)

Millions of people in Bangladesh and South Asia still suffer from chronic hunger and undernourishment, according to a new report.

One in seven people in Bangladesh suffer from undernourishment largely because they don’t have enough to eat on a daily basis, according to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2019.

The report ranks Bangladesh 88th among 177 countries in the world, placing the nation behind South Asian neighbors Sri Lanka (66) and Nepal (73) but above Pakistan (94), India (102) and Afghanistan (108).

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Belarus is the best performer at No.1 in tackling hunger while the Central African Republic is ranked 177th or the worst performer.

The trend is certainly for the better in Bangladesh, though. Bangladesh this time scores 25.8 on a scale of 100, in which 0 reflects no hunger present at all. In 2000 the country scored 36, equivalent to an alarming level of hunger.

The report echoes the findings of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019, published in July, which said 820 million people — or 11 percent of the world’s population — don’t have enough to eat.

Determined efforts

The Bangladesh government has undertaken various measures to tackle hunger and malnutrition in recent years, said Selim Akter, a deputy director of the Food Planning and Monitoring Unit of the Food Ministry.

With support from the U.N. Food And Agricultural Organization, these included the National Food Policy Capacity Strengthening Program (NFPCSP) and Meeting the Undernutrition Challenge (MUCH).

“Our unit advises and collaborates with various government ministries and departments to ensure food is accessible to poor segments of the society,” Akter told ucanews.

“We collect data from grassroots level and organize workshops regularly in order to identify who needs food grants support, especially poor people in rural and urban areas.”

Despite being an impoverished and overpopulated nation, Bangladesh has been able to triple its production of rice, the staple food for most. 

“In the 1970s, Bangladesh was a food-deficit country where people used to die of starvation,” he added. “Now, people have access to food, more or less, and it is rare to see people dying of hunger.”

Caritas Bangladesh, a social service agency of the local Catholic Church, is among the leading non-governmental organizations tackling hunger and poverty in the country.

The charity has initiated various projects to address hunger, said Daud Jibon Das, regional director of Caritas Khulna, which covers the southern coastal areas, one of the poorest regions in Bangladesh.

“Hunger and malnutrition are the results of people’s poor economic conditions, which means that even if food is available they don’t have money to buy it. That’s why we have focused on projects that can improve their economic situation,” Das said.

Caritas Khulna also has several projects under its wing, including Food for Work, Sustainable Food and Livelihood Security (SUFOL) and Strengthening the Community Resilience for Multi-hazards (SCRM). Together these all enhance people through income generation and sustainable livelihoods, he said, but he noted that efforts by the government and NGOs to eradicate hunger was still hampered by a lack of available funds.

“Altogether state and private initiatives can cover 50 percent of the requirements of needy people, so half the people don’t get any help at all,” he said. “More funding, effective policies and action plans are vital to end hunger and undernutrition.”  

On the right road

Statistics show Bangladesh has made remarkable socioeconomic progress in the past three decades. 

Poverty fell from 56.6 percent in the 1990s to 22 percent in 2018, according to the state-run Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. The country has maintained 6-7 percent annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP), it reported.

Yet about 40 million people of Bangladesh’s more than 160 million people remain “food insecure,” according to the World Food Program (WFP), and 11 million still suffer from acute hunger,

A diet lacking in nutrients causes stunting — the condition still affects 36 percent of children under five, while about 5.5 million children are chronically malnourished, says the WFP.

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