UNICEF: A Matter of Magnitude: The Impact of the Economic Crisis on Women and Children in South Asia

A UNICEF report says the number of people going hungry in South Asia has jumped by 100 million in the past two years.

The report says the global economic crisis has exacerbated poverty in a region where more than 1 billion people live on less than $2 a day.

The number of people suffering from chronic hunger in South Asia is now the same as it was 40 years ago.

The raw figures are stark. In the South Asian countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, one third of people are going hungry.

Almost half of all children are underweight, as regional director of UNICEF in South Asia Daniel Toole explains.

"Perhaps the most dramatic impact is that we see that there are about 100 million more people hungry in South Asia than two years ago. That's a huge change," he said.

"It's the biggest number of hungry - almost 400 million people hungry in South Asia - bigger than 30 years ago, bigger than 20 years ago; the biggest since the big famines in the 1960s. So that's a really, really big impact already."

The UNICEF report, 'A Matter of Magnitude', blames rising fuel and food prices, conflicts in the region, and the impact of the global economic meltdown for the dramatic rise.

"If you're in a poor family here in India or in Pakistan, you spend about 60 to 80 per cent of your income on food. If food prices go up you've got no margins, so you've actually got a situation where a family has to take a decision - do they pull a child out of school, or do they pull food off the table?" Mr Toole said.

Patrick McCormick from UNICEF in New York spoke to Radio National's Breakfast Program.

"We've seen price increases in some of the just basic foodstuffs; wheat, grain at 40 per cent over this period. So they're not slight variations - they're huge ones," Mr McCormick said.

Officially, going hungry is described as eating less than 2,100 calories per day, which is the recommended minimum.

But Patrick McCormick says it can mean so much more.

"Poor women in a family may go without food so that their children have it. It can mean that children are pulled out of school and sent to work," he said.

"It means that high prices can force people to borrow money at very high interest, and that all the income they have is only spent on food, and not on other essentials like healthcare and education."

The UNICEF report is urging government in South Asia to shift their priorities away from defence towards more basic human services.

It is calling on governments to invest in education, health and better social services. The time to act, the report says, is now.

[News source: ABC, Australia]

pdf: http://www.crin.org/docs/amatterofmagnitude.pdf



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