Khadija Begum (walking) returns home after delivering lunches to employees at shops in Sadarghat area Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. The Muslim widow struggles to feed her three-member family twice a day. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)
This article was first published on July 25, 2019
Khadija Begum daily delivers lunchboxes to dozens of employees of shops around busy Sadarghat ferry terminal in Bangladesh's bustling capital, Dhaka.
But, ironically, she struggles to provide two square meals to her two children.
Khadija, 35, a Muslim in a nation whose people overwhelmingly share her faith, left southern Bangladesh 10 years ago after her farmer husband died of an undiagnosed disease.
Then 25 and the mother of a son and a daughter, Khadija was devastated by the untimely demise of the family's sole provider.
But worse was to come.
"My in-laws forced me to leave home," Khadija told ucanews. "I was upset and frustrated and I didn't know where I should go or what I should do."
With a little money in hand, the widow moved to Dhaka with her children. When income from the food delivery job she obtained was inadequate, her son quit school and started stitching clothes at a tailor's shop.
While Khadija manages to pay house rent, food and other essentials for the family, her now 15-year-old son pays for the schooling of his 12-year-old sister.
Life is an everyday struggle for the poor family.
"Altogether we earn about 8,000 taka (US$94) a month," Khadija said.
"We can manage meals twice a day. After paying rent and other family expenses, including for the education of my daughter, we have nothing left."
The tight budget meant it was often not possible to buy nutritious food, she added.
The story of Khadija and her family is a common one, not only in impoverished Bangladesh, but around the world, according to the United Nations.
More than 820 million people, or 11 percent of world's population, don't have enough to eat, according to a new UN report entitled: State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019.
In Asia, the number of underfed and undernourished people is calculated to be 513.9 million and for Africa this figure is put at 256.1 million.
In Bangladesh, 24.2 million (out of population of 160 million) were underfed and undernourished in 2018, up from 23.85 million in 2004-06, the report said.
The U.N findings come from collaborative research by United Nations bodies including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Program (WFP).
For Bangladesh, the report comes against the backdrop of a big improvement in terms of food security, especially near self-sufficiency in the production of the staple, rice.
In addition, the government runs various food security and social safety net programs, including an Open Market Sales (OMS) system of selling low priced food, Food for Work and Vulnerable Group Development.
But experts say sufficient food supplies do not guarantee access to food for all people.
"Our food supply chain and distribution following production and post harvest is not sustainable," Dr. Mahatab Uddin, associate professor at the Food and Nutrition Department of Daffodil International University in Dhaka.
"There is a huge gap between income and expenditure, especially for low-income people. This might be a result of extreme capitalism, mismanagement and inefficiency."
He warned that if the food supply and distribution system is not improved, the nation would fail to achieve ‘zero poverty' by 2030 — a major U.N. Sustainable Development Goal.
"I think the government is enthusiastic about food security, but state and non-state actors have not developed an effective food security system, so we have failed to reach out to 24.2 million people suffering from hunger and undernourishment," he said.
The government, NGOs, academics and resource organizations need to work together on a common platform to redesign food security policy and improve management of food supply, he added.
Jibon D. Das is the regional director of the Catholic charity Caritas Khulna, which covers the southern coastal region, one of the poorest in the country.
"While the poor people in urban areas fare relatively better in getting food, the situation in rural areas is worse," Das told ucanews.
"Poor communities such as farmers, fishermen and day laborers don't have a steady income, so they struggle so much to get enough food to eat."
The often high price of food and other daily essentials put poor people under great pressure.
"A fisherman sells his catch at a throwaway price, but he faces difficulty to buy rice and other food items because of price hikes," Das said. "There is a significant imbalance between their income and expenses."
Hunger and under-nourishment because of poverty is often exacerbated by natural disasters such as storms and tidal surges.
For years, Caritas has been working for individual capacity building and development, which covers food security, nutrition and sustainable livelihood programs.
"We believe that without uplifting conditions of millions of poor and hungry, no development can be sustained in this country," Das cautioned.